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Irene S. (HVT-98)

“Treblinka Survival Song”
“Ani Ma’amin”

Analysis and contextual notes by D. Zisl Slepovitch.
All songs transcribed, scored, arranged, and produced by Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch.
Translations by Daniel Kahn & Yeva Lapsker.


Irene S. was born in 1925 in the Galician town of Brzezany (Berezhany) and grew up in Grudziadz, Poland. In her testimony, she describes her life as the daughter of a prominent local musician; her family’s move to Białystok in 1938; and their life there under Russian and German occupation. She speaks of the ghettoization of Białystok; ghetto life; her underground activities there; and her capture and transport to Majdanek by way of Treblinka. She tells of her experiences in Majdanek; in a small nearby labor camp; in Auschwitz; and as a slave laborer in Germany where she was liberated by the Americans in Kaunitz. Mrs. S. notes the fates of family members; postwar experiences working as a translator; and her emigration to the United States. She also makes reference to Jewish self-deception during the Holocaust; sings songs sung by Jews during the war, including some of her own composition; and asserts her belief in the possibility of a more humane world.

Unedited Testimony

Treblinka Survival Song

Irene S. (HVT-98), b. 1925 in Brzezany/Berezhany, Ukraine and raised in Grudziądz, Poland, a survivor of the Treblinka concentration camp, and a singer-songwriter, remembers singing existing songs and composing new ones at the camp, with the company of other young people from Poland and the Soviet Union, in order to boost their morale. Although both Polish and Yiddish were Irene’s native languages while her Russian was somewhat limited, she chose the latter for a song-manifesto of the enslaved children, in order to help a Russian-speaking fellow inmate to sing it in his own language.

Военные грозы весь мир обнимают,
И льётся рабочая кровь.
Вчерашние дети свободного края,
Сегодня мы — племя рабов.

Закрыты мы в гетто, оторваны от мира
И биты нацистским кнутом.
Но если сегодня жить тяжко и плохо,
Сегодня мы завтра ждём.
Но если сегодня жить тяжко и плохо,
Мы лучшего завтра подождём.

Thunderstorms of war embrace the world,
And the workers’ blood is flowing.
We, yesterday’s children of freedom,
Are today’s tribe of slaves.

Locked up in the ghetto, torn from the world,
Lashed with the Nazi whip.
But if today is hard and miserable,
We will wait for tomorrow;
If today is hard and miserable,
We will wait for a better tomorrow.

Ani Ma’amin

Among the songs that young people in Treblinka, including Irene S., were singing to support their faith and hope for survival and liberation, were Hebrew songs they had learned in Poland before the war, presumably as part of Tarbut ("Culture"), the interwar-period Polish Zionist educational system. After the State of Israel came into existence, Sakhki, Sakhki became a staple popular song. The lyrics were composed by Shaul Tchernichovsky as a poem in 1894 in Odessa. This performance presents an abridged version of Tchernichovsky’s poem, in keeping with Irene’s performance, with one exception: Irene started singing the song on the 2nd verse; here we perform it from the beginning.

Ani Ma’amin

Sakhki sakhki al hakhalomot,
zu ani hakholem sach
Sakhki ki b’adam a’amin
ki odeni ma’amin bakh

Ki od nafshi dror sho’efet
lo makhartiah l’egel paz
Ki od amin gam be’adam
gam berukho ruakh az

Rukho yashlikh kavlei-hevel
yeromemeynu bomatay-al
Lo bara’av yamut oved
dror la’nefesh pat ladal

I Believe

Laugh, laugh at these dreams –
This is me, the dreamer, speaking
Laugh because I still believe in humanity,
Because I still believe in you.

Because my soul still longs for freedom,
I have not sold it for a golden calf.
Because I still believe in humanity
And in its spirit, a strong spirit.

This spirit will cast off the shackles of falsehood,
And will be uplifted.
No worker shall die of hunger;
Freedom for the soul, bread for the poor.