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Himlen, o Himlen

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

Biography

Moshe F. (HVT-1956) was born in Uniejów, Poland in 1913, the youngest of eight children. He recalls the deaths of his father and mother; living with his grandmother in Wladyslawow (Russocice), with uncles in Będzin, then with uncles in Łódź; working in a bakery; starting his own business; marriage; his son’s birth; German invasion; ghettoization; working in a public kitchen; deportation with his wife and son to Auschwitz; separation upon arrival (he never saw them again); meaningless slave labor; transfer to Kaufering; reunion with a brother; working in the camp hospital and disposing of corpses; sharing extra food with others; liberation; living in a displaced persons camp with his brother, then in Munich; marriage; his son’s birth; emigration to Israel to join his sister; moving to the United States; and eventually owning his own bakery. Mr. F. discusses details of ghetto and camp life.

Unedited Testimony

Himlen, o Himlen (Heavens, Oh Heavens)

Lyrics and Music: anonymous (traditional); transcription and arrangement: D. Zisl Slepovitch.

This powerful yet chilling song was remembered and performed by Moshe F. (HVT-1956), born in Uniejów, Poland, in 1913. When Moshe arrived in Auschwitz, he met a man by the name of Mayer-Ber Gutman who “could write.” He wrote two poems, Azoy vi ikh bin nokh Oyshvits gekimen (When I came to Auschwitz…) and Himlen, o, himlen, vi iz mayn glik? (Heavens, oh heavens, where is my luck?). Both were set to the melodies of popular Yiddish songs of the period. As in many examples of amateur poetry, there are some colloquialisms used here (or, possibly, dialectisms, e.g. shneyern: masses of snow), and some words in the poem are grammatically incorrect but used for rhyming purposes.

The second tune and verse, which gives the title to this track, uses the melody of the popular song “Where Is The Little Street, Where Is That Little House?” ״וווּ איז דאָס געסעלע, וווּ איז די שטוב?״ (Vi iz dus gesele, vi iz di shtib? Yiddish) / «Где эта улица, где этот дом?» (Gdie eta oolitsa, gdie etat dom? Russian) / „Gdzie jest ta ulica, gdzie jest ten dom?” (Polish).

PART 1:
Azoy vi mir zaynen nokh Oyshvits gekimen,
Froyen in kinder hot men tsigenimen
Iz dort gevorn a groyser timl
“In a halbe shu veln mir zayn in himl.”

In di nakht oyf di nares
Leygn mir avek di beyndelakh di dare.
Shlofn mit ofenung oyfn hertsn.
Oyf der fray veln mir zayn in kertsn.

PART 2:
O himlen, o himlen, a vu iz mayn glik?
Levone in shneyern bahaltn mit ayer blik.
Vu zenen undzere kinder? In velkhn land?
In Oyshvits, in Treblinke, tseshpolt in tsushand.

PART 1:
When we arrived in Auschwitz,
They took away the women and the children.
A great tumult happened there:
“In half an hour we will be in heaven.”

At night, on the plank-beds,
We put away our skinny bones.
We sleep with a hole in our hearts.
We will be set free shortly.

PART 2:
Heavens, oh heavens, where is my luck?
The moon and the snow are hidden by your look.
Where are our children? In what country are they?
In Auschwitz, in Treblinka, torn apart and disgraced.