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Siekiera, Motyka

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


Zalman H. (HVT-3638) was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1929, the youngest of six brothers. He recounts being the sole Jew in his public school class; antisemitic harassment; his oldest brother’s draft in 1937; German invasion; anti-Jewish restrictions; ghettoization; his father’s death; two brothers escaping and working as non-Jews; smuggling food into the ghetto with Peretz, his next oldest brother; arrest by Polish police; escape; his father’s non-Jewish friend once providing food; his mother’s death; escaping with Peretz; moving from place to place; entering the ghetto often to obtain goods to sell outside the ghetto; a ghetto resistance fighter showing him a secret arms cache; fighting with him during the uprising; capture; escaping from a boxcar; finding Peretz; selling cigarettes and newspapers; attending church to reinforce his non-Jewish identity to the other street children; obtaining false papers from the underground, resulting in registering and living with a Polish woman as non-Jews; occasional contact with a person from the Jewish underground; joining the Polish resistance; fighting in the Polish uprising; and their unit surrendering.

Mr. H. recalls 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; jumping on a train to Warsaw, leaving Peretz behind; reunion with another brother who had survived posing as a non-Jew; Peretz’s return; joining a kibbutz; being smuggled to Bratislava, Prague, Germany, then Marseille; illegal emigration to Palestine in August 1946; interdiction by the British; incarceration on Cyprus; release; reunion with his brothers (they had arrived while he was in Cyprus); draft into the Palmaḥ; fighting in the Israel-Arab War; marriage; and the births of three sons. Mr. H. discusses his nightmares and sharing his experiences with his sons and in schools.

Siekiera, Motyka (Ax, Hoe)

Music and lyrics: anonymous; arrangement: D. Zisl Slepovitch

This song was shared by Zalman H. (HVT-3638), who was born in Warsaw in 1929. Siekiera, Motyka played an important role in the Polish resistance during World War II. In Nazi-occupied Warsaw, and later throughout Poland, it became one of the most popular songs. Because many singers contributed to its creation and performance, Siekiera, Motyka exists in many variants. The song was based on an old humorous folk song widely performed during World War I. It was published in 1938 in the book Wiersze żołnierskie (Soldiers’ Poetry)—a lengthy variant of the song, numbering 27 verses, published under the authorship of Aleksander Fusk. Zalman H. heard Siekiera, Motyka from other children in the streets of Warsaw when the song had already been banned by the Germans. After World War II, the song appeared in the 1945 book Zakazane piosenki (Banned Songs) as part of the anthology Satyra w konspiracji (Satire in the Underground). Zalman’s variant of the song is of special interest since it contains verses not found in any other published or recorded variants. One such example is the substitution of the word hycle (Polish: ‘dog-catchers’) in the line with Hitler.

1. Siekiera, motyka, piłka, graca
Niech pan głowy nie zawraca
Siekiera, motyka, piłka, gwóźdź,
Masz „górala”, i mnie puść.

A jak nie masz pięćset złotych,
Ty wyjeżdżasz na roboty.
Siekiera motyka, piłka, linka,
Tu Oświęcim, tam Treblinka.

Już nie wiemy, gdzie się kryć
Hitler nam nie daje żyć.
Po ulicach chodzi wciąż,
Patrzy jeszcze kogo wziąć.

2. Siekiera, motyka, piłka, linka,
Tu roboty—tam Treblinka…
Już nie mamy gdzie się kryć,
Szwaby nam nie dają żyć.

Widocznie kultura im pozwala
Robić takie polowania
Widocznie z nimi jest już źle,
Kiedy za nas biorą się.

Po ulicach gonią wciąż,
Patrzą, kogo jeszcze wziąć.
Im kultura nie zabrania
Po ulicach polowania.

3. Siekiera, motyka, piłka, alasz.
Przegrał wojnę głupi malarz.
Siekiera, motyka, piłka nóż.
Przegrał wojnę już, już, już.

Siekiera, motyka, gaz i prąd
Kiedyż oni pójdą stąd?!
Siekiera, motyka, prąd i gaz,
A żeby w was piorun trząsł!

1. An ax, a hoe, a ball, a scuffle,
Don’t bullshit me, mister!
Ax, hoe, ball, nail,
Get a ‘highlander’ and let me go.

And if you don’t have five hundred zlotys,
You’re going to the labor camp.
Hoe ax, ball, string,
Over here is Auschwitz, over there is Treblinka.

We don’t know where to hide anymore
Hitler doesn’t let us live.
He’s still strolling down the streets,
And looks for others he can grab.

2. An ax, a hoe, a ball, a rope,
Slave labor is here, Treblinka is there.
We have nowhere to hide
The Swabians are not leaving us alone.

Apparently, their culture allows them
To conduct manhunts.
Apparently, their business is so bad,
they’ve taken to hunting us.

They keep chasing people down the street,
Looking for others to grab.
Their culture does not forbid them
From manhunting in the streets.

3. Ax, hoe, ball, Allasch,
The stupid artist has lost the war.
Ax, hoe, ball, knife.
He lost the war already, it’s done!

Ax, hoe, gas and electricity
When will they go away?!
Ax, hoe, electricity and gas,
May the lightning strike you dead!