Written in 1943, it became the anthem of the Jewish resistance during WWII

‘Zog nit kein mol’: a beautiful song full of hope arising from the horror of the Holocaust

A few weeks ago I discovered a beautiful song, written in a language very unknown to the general public and that emerged from a real hell.

“To die with dignity, fighting”: this is how the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was
‘Bij bolszewika!’: An anti-communist song sung by the Polish resistance after WWII

“Zog nit kein mol” (Never say) was written in Yiddish – the language spoken by Ashkenazi Jews in Central Europe – by a young Polish Jewish poet, Hirsh Glick (1922-1944), born in Vilnius, now the capital of Lithuania and then part of the Republic of Poland. The song was written when he was interned in the Vilna Ghetto, in 1943, and was inspired by the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began on April 19 of that year. For the music he took the sheet music of the Soviet song “Terskaya pokhodnaya” (March of Terek), composed by the Ukrainian Jew Dmitry Pokrass and sung by the Cossack horsemen of the Red Army.

Glick’s song became a hymn for the partisans of the Jewish resistance against nazism, and today it is played in many tributes to the victims of the Holocaust. Despite the dire circumstances in which it was written, its beautiful lyrics are a hymn to hope, not without a certain melancholy. Sadly, its author never knew the fame that the song achieved: after escaping from a German concentration camp in Estonia in 1944, Glick was never heard from again. The most common theory is that he was captured and killed by the Germans.

You can hear here “Zog nit kein mol” sung by the Israeli singer of Polish origin Chava Alberstein:

After World War II, the song was translated into other languages. You can hear here the English version sung by Paul Robeson:

And here you can listen to the original Soviet song:

Here you can see the original lyrics in Yiddish:

,זאָג ניט קיין מאָל, אַז דו גייסט דעם לעצטן וועג
.כאָטש הימלען בלײַענע פֿאַרשטעלן בלויע טעג
– קומען וועט נאָך אונדזער אויסגעבענקטע שעה
!ס׳וועט אַ פּויק טאָן אונדזער טראָט: מיר זײַנען דאָ

,פֿון גרינעם פּאַלמענלאַנד ביז ווײַסן לאַנד פֿון שניי
,מיר קומען אָן מיט אונדזער פּײַן, מיט אונדזער וויי
,און וווּ געפֿאַלן ס׳איז אַ שפּריץ פֿון אונדזער בלוט
!שפּראָצן וועט דאָרט אונדזער גבֿורה, אונדזער מוט

,ס׳וועט די מאָרגנזון באַגילדן אונדז דעם הײַנט
,און דער נעכטן וועט פֿאַרשווינדן מיט דעם פֿײַנט
– נאָר אויב פֿאַרזאַמען וועט די זון אין דעם קאַיאָר
.ווי אַ פּאַראָל זאָל גיין דאָס ליד פֿון דור צו דור

,דאָס ליד געשריבן איז מיט בלוט, און ניט מיט בלײַ
,ס׳איז ניט קיין לידל פֿון אַ פֿויגל אויף דער פֿרײַ
דאָס האָט אַ פֿאָלק צווישן פֿאַלנדיקע ווענט
.דאָס ליד געזונגען מיט נאַגאַנעס אין די הענט

,טאָ זאָג ניט קיין מאָל, אַז דו גייסט דעם לעצטן וועג
.כאָטש הימלען בלײַענע פֿאַרשטעלן בלויע טעג
– קומען וועט נאָך אונדזער אויסגעבענקטע שעה
!ס׳וועט אַ פּויק טאָן אונדזער טראָט: מיר זײַנען דאָ

And here is the transliteration of the original letter in Yiddish to Latin characters:

Zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letstn veg,
Khotsh himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg.
Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho,
S’vet a poyk ton undzer trot: mir zaynen do!

Fun grinem palmenland biz vaysn land fun shney,
Mir kumen on mit undzer payn, mit undzer vey,
Un vu gefaln s’iz a shprits fun undzer blut,
Shprotsn vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut!

S’vet di morgnzun bagildn undz dem haynt,
Un der nekhtn vet farshvindn mit dem faynt,
Nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in dem kayor –
Vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tsu dor.

Dos lid geshribn iz mit blut, un nit mit blay,
S’iz nit keyn lidl fun a foygl oyf der fray,
Dos hot a folk tsvishn falndike vent
Dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent.

To zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letstn veg,
Khotsh himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg.
Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho –
S’vet a poyk ton undzer trot: mir zaynen do!

I end here with the English translation:

Never say that you’re going your last way
Although the skies filled with lead cover blue days
Our promised hour will soon come
Our marching steps ring out: “We are here!”

From green lands of palm to lands with white snow
We come with our pain and our woes
And from where a spurt of our blood falls
Will sprout our strength and our courage.

Today the morning sun will accompany us
And our enemies will fade away with yesterday
But if the sun waits to rise
Like a password this song will go from generation to generation.

This song is written with blood and not with lead
It’s not a tune sung by birds in the wild
This song was sung by people amidst collapsing walls
Sung with pistols in their hands.

So never say that you’re going your last way
Although the skies filled with lead cover blue days
Our promised hour will soon come
Our marching steps ring out: “We are here!”

Main photo: members of a Jewish partisan unit during World War II.

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