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Peretz H. (HVT-3569)

“Walc François”
“W pociągu jest tłok”

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.


Peretz H. was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1927, the fifth of six children. In his testimony, Peretz recounts harassment as the only Jew in his public school class; his oldest brother’s military draft in 1938; German invasion; learning his brother was taken as a Soviet prisoner of war; another brother leaving to find him; anti-Jewish abuse and restrictions; ghettoization; his father’s death from starvation; his older two brothers escaping; smuggling food into the ghetto with his younger brother Zalman; escaping to live as non-Jews; singing Polish songs for food and money; several escapes from Poles who suspected they were Jews; receiving assistance from Poles (some knew they were Jews, others did not); Zalman re-entering the ghetto to obtain goods to sell, and being caught in the uprising; Zalman escaping and rejoining him; brief employment as a night watchman, which provided a place to stay; taking food to a hidden Jew; selling cigarettes with other street children; obtaining false papers through the Jewish underground; registering as Poles; arrest for making an anti-German joke; and release the next day.

Mr. H. recalls he and Zalman participating in the Polish uprising with Armia Krajowa; surrender; transport to Ożarów; transfer to Stalag VIII B (Lamsdorf), then IV B (Mühlberg); receiving Red Cross parcels; forced labor in an airplane factory; antisemitic harassment by non-Jewish Polish prisoners; assistance from their German supervisor; liberation by Soviet troops from an evacuation march; separation from Zalman; traveling with a Soviet unit, then returning to Warsaw; reunion with an older brother; joining Zalman in Kraków; living on a kibbutz; protection from anti-Jewish violence by Soviet troops; traveling to Czechoslovakia, then Biberach displaced persons camp; assistance from UNRRA; illegal emigration by ship from Marseille to Palestine; interdiction by the British; brief incarceration; training with the Palmaḥ; serving in the Arab-Israeli war; being wounded; marriage; and the births of three sons. Mr. H. discusses nightmares resulting from his experiences, and sharing his experiences in schools and military training.

Unedited Testimony

Walc François (Waltz François)

Composed in 1905 by Adam Józef Karasiński to the lyrics by Andrzej Włast, it is a salon waltz that enjoyed enormous popularity in Poland in the first half of the 20th century. Peretz H. (HVT-3569), a native of Warsaw who was a child when the war broke out, used to carol this song, among many others, in the streets of Warsaw to earn his living.

Walc François

W starych nutach babuni
Walc przechował się ten
Pomnę wieczorek u niej
Widzę go jak przez sen

Grajek przy fortepianie
Goście snują się w krąg
W białych bufach, tiurniurach są panie
W klapach panów chryzantem tkwi pąk

Dawnych wspomnień czar
Wdzięk stylowych par
Muślin sukien jak mgła
I najnowszy ten walc François

Gdyby jeszcze raz
Wrócił piękny czas
Gdyby zbudził w sercach złych ludzi
Czar modnego walca François

Waltz François

In my grandma’s old music
This waltz has survived.
I remember an evening at her place,
I see it as in a dream.

A player at the piano,
Guests are gathering in a circle.
Ladies wear white puffs and bustles,
A chrysanthemum in each gentleman’s lapel

The magic of yesteryear’s memories,
The grace of elegant couples,
Muslin dresses flying like fog,
To the latest Waltz François.

If only, once again,
That beautiful time would return,
If only it would evoke in these hearts of evil
The magic of that French waltz


W pociągu jest tłok (Crowded Train)

“W pociągu jest tłok,” (“Crowded Train”) also performed by Peretz H., is one of at least two Polish renditions of the popular Mexican copla song, Cielito Lindo. Just like with Walc François, Peretz sang this song in the courtyards of Warsaw, along with many other children like himself, as well as local street bands. The song was originally popularized by Mexican author Quirino Mendoza y Cortés (c.1862–1957). It became widespread in Poland thanks to Rosita Serrano, known as the Chilean Nightingale, who had performed in Berlin starting in 1936 and recorded there in German for Telefunken. The first, Polish text, which would have been lost to history if not for this testimony by Peretz H., refers to the prewar depression and smuggling of groceries in Warsaw. In postwar Poland, the song gained a new wave of popularity, thanks in part to Leonard Buczkowski’s movie Zakazane piosenki (Forbidden Songs, 1946). The new version, although similar to the prewar version sung by Peretz H., referred to the war: “teraz jest wojna, kto handluje, ten żyje” (“It is war now; those who sell live”). Decades later, on February 4, 1982, the Polish Cielito came back to life yet again in the wake of martial law introduced by Jaruzelski.

W pociągu jest tłok

W pociągu jest tłok,
Przytulnie o zmrok
Zaczyna się więc sielanka
W ramionach kto splótł
A jajka kto gniótł
Pod ławką jest coś – rąbanka

Podała mu ust.
On podniósł jej biust
A pod nim dwa balerony,
Rąbanka i schab,
Spod serca kap-kap,
A pociąg mknie jak szalony.

O, Zosiu ma,
Warszawa jest już blisko
Więc każdy to przyzna,
W Warszawie drożyzna,
Dla ciebie ja wiozę wszystko

Ciocia Adela i córka jej Fela
Zawsze się w drodze kłócą
Napięte są nerwy i myślą bez przerwy,
Że dzisiaj do domu wrócą.

O Zosiu ma, zapraszam Cię na kolacje
Będzie wódzia i wino i wszystko co chcesz,
A reszta to już jak wiesz.

Crowded Train

It’s crowded on the train
The darkness is cozy,
So the fun begins:
Someone gets their arms entangled,
Someone is crushing the eggs,
The meat carcasses are under the bench.

She gives him a kiss,
He lifts up her bosom,
And finds two pieces of ham.
Meat carcasses and pork chops,
Dripping from beneath the heart,
And the train is racing like crazy.

Oh, Zosha, dear,
Warsaw is so near,
Everyone will admit,
Living in Warsaw is expensive.
For you I am bringing it all.

Aunt Adela and her daughter, Fela
Always quarrel on the road.
They get on each other’s nerves,
Thinking they will return home today.

Oh, Zosha, dear, please join me for dinner.
There will be vodka, wine — whatever you want,
The rest is up to you.