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Dem rebns shikse

Analysis and contextual notes by D. Zisl Slepovitch.
All songs transcribed, translated, scored, arranged, and produced by Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch.

Biography

Hella R. (HVT-4179) was born in Adamów, Poland in 1926, the oldest of six children. She recounts moving to Warsaw when she was four; summers with her maternal grandparents in Adamów; attending a Jewish school; German invasion; her mother and siblings returning to Adamów (she never saw them again); ghettoization; studying with a tutor; smuggling food into the ghetto; a Polish friend bringing a letter from her mother; hospitalization for typhus; escaping from a round-up; factory work with her father; hiding in a bunker during the uprising; discovery; deportation to Majdanek; volunteering for transfer at her father’s suggestion (she never saw him again); transport to Auschwitz/Birkenau; working in Canada Kommando; exchanging valuables for extra food; she and others fasting on Yom Kippur; liquidation of the Zigeunerlager (Gypsy Lager); observing Mala Zimetbaum’s public suicide; the uprising in a crematorium; a death march; her friends helping her walk; train transfer to Ravensbrück, then Neustadt-Glewe; abandonment by the Germans; liberation by French POWs, then Soviet troops; walking to Myślibórz, then Łódź; marriage; traveling to Szczecin, Frankfurt, then Munich; her son’s birth; living in Bad Reichenhall displaced persons camp; emigration to Israel in 1949; and the births of three daughters. Ms. R. discusses the importance of her friends’ support to her survival; testifying at a war crimes trial in Dusseldorf; nightmares resulting from her experiences; and not sharing details of her experiences with her children.

Unedited Testimony

Dem rebns shikse (The Rabbi’s Shiksa)

Hella R. (HVT-4179) was born in 1926 in Adamów, Poland. At the age of four she moved to Warsaw, where she was later imprisoned in the ghetto. In her testimony, Hella shares several accounts of people coping in the ghetto with humor, often a dark “gallows humor.” In Hella’s own words, they were telling jokes and singing songs as they were going to work in the ghetto. One of these songs was a humorous pre-war song, “The Rabbi[’s son] and the Shiksa.” In its other known variant, it is the rabbi himself who commits the sin with the shiksa in the woods, and she later becomes the rabbi’s own shiksa who solves di shayles, or Talmudic questions. In the instrumental breaks we used a popular Hasidic niggun (chant) known as a Purim tune, Mishenichnas Adar from the Bobover Hasidic tradition.

In a shteytl nisht vayt fin danet, ay-ay-ay,
Iz a rebale faranen, ay-ay-ay.
Leybn leybt er fin kashaymes, oy-oy-oy,
Nor fin khsidim di behaymes, ay-ay-ay
Ay-ay-ay, ay-ay-ay, ay-ay-ay.

Iz amul a nes gesheyen, ay-ay-ay,
M’hot dem rebns zin zeyen, ay-ay-ay
Mit a shikse tsvishn di boymer, ay-ay-ay.
Un a shames in un a shoymer, ay-ay-ay,
Ay-ay-ay, ay-ay-ay, ay-ay-ay.

Iz der rebe gevorn in kas, ay-ay-ay,
Of di shikse di makhshas (makhsheyfe), ay-ay-ay,
Dem zin dem nar aroysgetribn, ay-ay-ay,
In mit di shiksele ayn geblibn, ay-ay-ay,
Ay-ay-ay, ay-ay-ay, ay-ay-ay.

In a nearby shtetl, ay-ay-ay.
There is a rabbi, ay-ay-ay.
He lives off resolving legal questions, ay-ay-ay,
Just off his Hasidim, the fools, ay-ay-ay.

Once a miracle happened, ay-ay-ay,
They saw the rabbi’s son committing a sin, ay-ay-ay,
With a shiksa, between the trees, ay-ay-ay,
Without a shammes and without a shoymer, ay-ay-ay.

The rabbi became angry, ay-ay-ay,
At the shiksa, the evil witch, ay-ay-ay,
He kicked out his son the fool, ay-ay-ay,
And remained alone with the shiksa, ay-ay-ay.