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Shtubuneltsto

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

Biography

Joseph W. (HVT-2852) was born in Łódź, Poland in 1929, one of four children. He describes his orthodox family; living in his grandfather’s home in Konstantynów until age five; attending cheder; German invasion; ghettoization; his father’s death in 1940; smuggling food from outside the ghetto with his younger brother; hiding his youngest brother during round-ups; giving him up when all children were collected; his mother’s death in 1943; several jobs in ghetto factories; friendship with Jankele Herszkowicz, a popular ghetto singer, who raised spirits with his songs; his brother’s and sister’s deportation; deportation to Auschwitz/Birkenau in summer 1944; a prisoner suggesting he register his age older than fifteen; a friend choosing to go to the gas chambers with a younger brother so he would not die alone, a memory that haunts him to this day; forming a group of friends that assisted each other; hiding during selections; assignment guarding clandestine goods in Canada Kommando; transfer to Braunschweig; slave labor in a tobacco factory; trading smuggled tobacco for extra food that he shared with his group; a death march to Ravensbrück in April 1945; receiving Red Cross packages; transfer to Wöbbelin; cannibalism; liberation by United States troops in May 1945; emigration to Paris; emigration to Israel to fight in the 1948 War of Independence; and returning to Paris.

Unedited Testimony

Shtubuneltsto (The Senior in the Barrack)

Music and lyrics: Jankele Herszkowicz; arrangement: D. Zisl Slepovitch

Joseph W. (HVT-2852) was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1929 where, when the Nazi occupation began, he and his family were locked in the ghetto. One of Joseph’s brightest memories was of Jankele Herszkowicz (1911-72), pronounced Yánkele Hershkóvitsh, who composed many songs in the Lodz Ghetto and was famous as the ‘ghetto troubadour.’ “For everyone who came into the ghetto, he composed a song,” says Joseph, “Jankele brought something extraordinary to the ghetto that was greater than medicine or anything else.”

Both Joseph W. and Herszkowicz were deported, first to Auschwitz and then to a slave labor camp in Braunschweig, Germany. There they were likely working at the Büssing truck factory, to which a lot of Lodz Jews were brought in 1944–45.

Jankele Herszkowicz wrote many songs that quickly gained popularity. Most were written in the Lodz ghetto, such as the more famous Rumkowski Chaim and Geto, getunya. While at Auschwitz-Birkenau, he only wrote this one song, Shtubuneltsto.

Herszkowicz survived the war and the post-war massacres in Poland, but he never emigrated to Israel, even in the wake of the mass exodus that followed Władysław Gomułka’s notorious antisemitic policy; although he did consider that option at some point. Joseph suggests that this was perhaps because Herszkowicz’s wife was not Jewish. The ‘Ghetto troubadour’ took his own life in 1972. “Did he sing in Poland after the war? Perhaps at the beginning, but afterwards—with whom? Everyone eventually left,” says Joseph.

Herszkowicz’s two sons passed their father’s manuscripts to Joseph, as they were close friends. In his testimony, Joseph said that he wanted to publish all this material in a book, but that likely never happened. However, many of Herszkowicz’s songs survived through the rare oral performances of survivors and most of them were saved and preserved thanks to Gila Flam’s seminal research. The latter became the source for the 2005 record by the Brave Old World band, Dus gezang fin geto Lodzh (Song of the Lodz Ghetto). Discovery and recording of Shutubuneltsto coming directly from Herszkowicz’s close friend is of special value, as the survivors themselves wanted to forget this repertoire, and did not perform the songs at all.

Shtubuneltsto conveys the grim reality of the unbearable conditions at the camp. The Yiddish lyrics carry strong influence of German, as well as camp slang. It would be hard, if not impossible, to properly transcribe and understand the song, if not for the good chance that we received the assistance of Samuel Norich, the publisher of the Forward. Norich was born in 1947 in a DP camp in Germany where such slang was still in use.

The musical genre of this song is an upbeat freylekhs-like dance, in stark contrast to its content. The freylekhs-like feeling of the song, as sung by Joseph in his testimony, becomes a vehicle for the dark humor that saturates the lyrics.

Shtubuneltsto, gibstu gefelsto,
Aynem a zug un dem tsvaytn a patsh.
Oy heyb nit shrayen, s’iz nisht du tsu kayen,
Umar aba: a! In yeder iz a khvat.

1. Fin baginen fri
hob ikh nit kayn ri,
Miz ikh glaykh ayntretn
In ikh vays nisht vi,

Dort in klozet
Shprakhn men redt.
Trefsti aynem shlufn
Vi bay zikh in bet.

CHORUS.

2. Kimt der mitog shu,
Ver ikh geyl un gru,
Loyf ikh dort un du,
Shrayt uf der blokowo:
Er vil haben ru.

Zugt me’ men tayl,
Yeyder zikh aylt,
Krupe kashe mane,
Kartoft umgeshaylt.

CHORUS.

3. Du bay indz in blok
Hert men shoyn dem glok
Di portsyonen holen
Gayt es mitn shtok

Oy bin ikh a tam,
vayl ikh hob nisht ham
Heybt men dortn shrayen:
“Jude, ja ci dam!”

CHORUS.

Shtubuneltsto, oh you have your preferences,
You reprimand one, and you slap the other.
Don’t start yelling, there’s nothing to eat.
As father said, “Ah! Everyone’s a hustler.”

1. From early morning on,
I am restless.
I must immediately get moving,
And I don’t know where to go.

Over there in the bathroom
They speak different languages.
You run into someone sleeping,
Just like in his own bed.

CHORUS.

2. The lunchtime comes,
I become yellow and gray,
I’m running here and there,
The Block Senior is yelling,
He wants to get some rest.

They announce chow time.
Everyone is rushing.
A bit of farina porridge
And an unpeeled potato.

CHORUS.

3. Here in our barrack,
The bell has rung already.
They are bringing food,
You can only shove it down with a stick
(The food is so inedible).

CHORUS.