Polish Jewish Cabaret: a library of wonderful but forgotten Yiddish songs of the 1920s - 1930s. Have a listen!

1. Link to list of posts on this site
2. Link to songs for sale
3. Click here for our music videos of Yiddish songs with English subtitles (mainly post-1925)
4. List of the still lost songs. Do you know any of them?
5. Warszawa zumerkurs song links


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Zing, Brider, Zing! Sheet music and performances of a Ben Zion Witler song

UPDATE: Reposting because somebody just emailed me and asked for a sing-along version of this song.

The video has our track from the cd I Can't Complain But Sometimes I Still Do with the Yiddish words in transliteration and the translation.

I don't know if Benzion Witler (pictured) wrote this song or if he just made the most famous old recording of it, it's on youtube here.

I heard this sung by Betty Reichart at the Intensive Yiddish Summer Course at the Medem Bibliotheque in Paris. I later got the words from Hilda Bronstein, who recorded it on her Yiddish Songs Old and New cd.

In klal Yiddish this would be "Zing, bruder, zing" or "Zingt, brider, zingt" (plural) but Wittler sings with the theater dialect that pronounces bruder as brider.

You can get the sheet music from me:

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Glik (Happiness/Luck) by Alex Olshanetsky and Bella Meisel

Somebody asked about this song recently and I'd forgotten that Aviva and I recorded it back in 2011 (?) on our album "I Can't Complain but Sometimes I Still Do" (click the picture to visit the album which would make a fine Hanukkah present).

It is a wonderful song from a show called Der Letster Tants (The Last Dance). It was produced by Michal Michalesko at his own theater, and he starred with Bella Meisel, who wrote the lyrics to the song. Alex Olshanetsky wrote the haunting melody. There was a time when I was so sad only this song would soothe me and I played it and sang it to the exclusion of all others.

You can read about the show at the Milken Archive. The fabulous notes by Neil Levin include the whole plot. Briefly, some guy is imprisoned unjustly and is going to be executed on the morrow, and some girl is slated to marry him for some reason, though they've never met before, and, during their one meeting on the eve of his execution, in the presence of the prison rabbi and others, they fall in love and sing this song together. But then he is pardoned by the governor the next day so there is a happy ending.

I didn't know this was the back story those several years ago when pianist Aviva Enoch and I recorded the song. I thought it was about meeting your true love, your bashert, when the two of you were old and about to croak. That seemed extremely sad to me.

There is a Yiddish teacher who has asked me to make videos with the Yiddish lyrics in transliteration for his students who could not read the alef beys. So here's another one for him, this time I included both. Lyrics in translation and transliteration after the jump.

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Friday, November 4, 2016

Krokhmalne gas - waltz / tango by Benzion Witler

Many Americans know of Krochmalna street through the work of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Robert Klose wrote:
In Singer's youth, Warsaw was the epicenter of European Jewry. In 1908, he and his family moved to Krochmalna Street... It was a congeries of tenement slums, street merchants, and small shops; a place where bearded men huddled curbside, discussing the mysteries of their religion; where women tended to the affairs of the home and market and kept kosher kitchens; and where children – impoverished ragamuffins – were everywhere. ... Singer added, "As far as I'm concerned, this was the center of the universe."

That's pretty much exactly the theme of this song, which is attributed to Ben Zion Witler, whose performance you can find on Youtube: Krochmalne Gas Ulica Krochmalną Крахмальная улица Krochmalna Street.

Somebody recently asked me for the words to this song and Jeannette Lewicki pointed out they can be found in the indispensable Mlotek collection Songs of Generations. On the Witler recording, you hear this first verse but he sings a second verse which is not in Mlotek.

The Yiddish lyrics in transliteration, and my translation after the jump.

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Photographs of Warsaw Yiddish cabaret actress Franya Winter Punski

I recently received an email from Meryl Frank, retired United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. It read in part:

I am researching my cousin actress Franya Winter (nee Rosenrot) Punski, who started her career in the Yiddish Cabaret in Warsaw. I wonder if you have come across anything that mentions her. I've attached a sample of the photos of her that were found 40 years ago in a house that was about to be demolished in Paris.

I also understand that she had a lover by the name Rudolf Zaslavsky who was an actor, singer, songwriter. I wonder if his name may have some up in your research?

She also sent me an article about the donation of these photographs to the Mémorial de la Shoah:
... In 1975, comic book author Serge Mogère visited a house in Choisy-le-Roy threatened with demolition and found a magnificent old photo album, apparently left behind by the former owners. Intrigued by the family pictures, the faces and the period clothes, he decided to keep it. In February 2016, Mr. Mogère gave the album to the Shoah Memorial.

By dint of long, hard work, the archival staff eventually determined that the album dates back to the years 1920-1940 and had belonged to the Punski family, immigrants from Warsaw. It includes pictures of a famous actress, Franya Winter, executed by the Germans in 1942 in the town of Ashmyany (today in Belarus).

Meryl sent me some of the wonderful photos, see below.

I had not heard of these people, but am putting their names out in case others are researching them. If you have information for Meryl Frank and the rest of us, please contact me at jane@mappamundi.com - thanks!

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Friday, September 30, 2016

A reader's query about a Warsaw underworld romance, 1920s-1930s - can you help?

This is the story that was sent to me via email. If you have any ideas please let me know (jane@mappamundi.com) - thanks.

The reader writes:

Please could you help me identify a song about a Warsaw underworld tragedy. Chana Dziobak was a street merchant who sold cookies at the gate of Rynkowa/Gnojna 3 in Warsaw where my father lived before the war. Chana's husband Melech Paser (also known as Melech Ganev) was an underworld character who had an affair with Chana's sister Esther-Chaye. My father wrote:

"The lusting of Melech Fence for Esther-Chaye was transformed, with time, into a stormy spurt which connected them together like a couple on their wedding night. Chana Pockmark became wounded to the depths of her concealed feelings. She threw herself upon her sister like a bleeding animal, smashed her body, hit her, bit into her flesh with her teeth and nails – and these two sisters remained blood enemies forevermore. Chana did not reproach Melech, and she did not speak to him anymore. A wound oozed in her heart, which pushed its way through her laughter, song, and her entire being. Warsaw sang a pop song about Chana Pockmark’s tragedy, a song that meandered through the attics and cellars of the Warsaw realm of poverty."

Do you know of any Warsaw pop song (shlager) that might fit this story?