Keeping the Partisan Song relevant for generations to come

  • Zog Nit Keynmol Yad Vashem
Cape Town-born educator Eli Rabinowitz is a man on a mission. He’s determined to continue the legacy of the Holocaust survivors and those who fought the Nazis as partisans through the Yiddish song Zog Nit Keynmol (Never Say), also known as the Partisan Song – teaching people its history, significance and inspiration. In this way, says Rabinowitz, he will ensure that it is not lost to history.
by TALI FEINBERG | Jan 18, 2018

“Just as Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein has taken the local Shabbos Project idea to a global level, my vision for this project is to spread it throughout the world,” says Rabinowitz, who is working to teach the song, known as the Holocaust survivor’s anthem, to schoolchildren across the globe.

“On Yom Hashoah, many Holocaust survivors sing Zog Nit Keynmol. However, a decline in the numbers of survivors has meant that it is being lost to history,” explains Rabinowitz, who lives in Perth, Australia.

“The motivation behind this, the ‘Don’t Give Up Hope’ project, is to educate and give meaning to the Partisan Song and to continue the legacy of the survivors and partisans.”

The United Nations’ designated annual Holocaust Memorial Day – January 27 – is fast approaching, and with this year’s theme being The Power of Words, Rabinowitz hopes that young people can learn the poem in time to recite it on that day.

The project had humble beginnings right here in South Africa, when Rabinowitz was invited to present it to 1 000 students at King David High Schools, as well as to an online class hosted by Herzlia High School in Cape Town and attended by five schools in the former Soviet Union.

He used some “out-of-the-box” techniques in his presentation, including showing YouTube clips of the song in unexpected genres, such as heavy metal and Japanese. 

Since then, the project has snowballed. The Holocaust Education Trust in the UK has suggested the Partisan Song as the single most important reading for UN Holocaust Memorial Day 2018. Also, Philip Maisel, a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor, has come on board to promote the initiative. He was a friend of Hirsh Glik, who wrote the  poem, and was one of the first people to hear it.

 “World ORT has said: ‘The thundering, defiant optimism of Zog Nit Keynmol raised the morale of fighters against the Nazis, but it can also be an inspiration to new generations – if they know about it,’” says Rabinowitz.

To ensure that this emotive song and its stirring message are not lost, World ORT is supporting Rabinowitz in his passionate campaign to introduce it to learners worldwide.

Rabinowitz, who is also a filmmaker, says he is motivated to do this work because he realised that there were so many fields that could be covered in teaching the Partisan Song, from history and the Holocaust to poetry and music. “The contextual relationship between these is special. In addition, the contrast between talking about the Holocaust and a poem that represented hope, heroes and spirited resistance is something quite powerful.”

He adds: “I wasn’t that comfortable with poetry when I was at school at Highlands North Boys and Sea Point Boys in the mid to late 1960s, and this is my chance to make amends!”

In consultation with Mervyn Danker, a past principal of Herzlia, a free study guide has been created and is available on Rabinowitz’s website. “The study guide is a lesson plan, enabling teachers and pupils to work through the Partisan Poem using a more structured approach. This plan can be used in history, English or Jewish studies classes,” he explains.

“Related creative activities include art, creative writing, multimedia and singing.”

Rabinowitz has worked to gather numerous translations of the poem. “I initially sourced about 13 translations on various websites. When I visited the UK in June, I did some research and found several more, eventually compiling 23 language versions. I have now utilised a WordPress plug-in to translate the poem into 104 languages! Understanding the words is crucial to the strategy. We need people to read the poem in a language they understand, not just to sing it in Yiddish or Hebrew.” 

Rabinowitz urges community leaders to arrange for the poem to be recited on UN Holocaust Memorial Day next week, as well as on Yom Hashoah on April 11.

You can help, he says: “Support the Jewish studies learning programmes that have adopted this project; encourage your kids or grandkids to learn the Partisan Song; ask Jewish youth movements and the South African Union of Jewish Students to participate; attend Yom Hashoah commemoration ceremonies; and motivate your shul or community choir to sing the song.”

Rabinowitz’s ultimate vision for the project is for students around the world, irrespective of their background, to understand the meaning, significance and context of this song which, for 75 years, has been the anthem of the partisans, of those incarcerated in the camps and ghettos, and of the Holocaust survivors.

“The words were written in the darkest times for the Jews of Europe. Standing up for what is right is something we hope our children are taught and will practise. The poem’s message is still relevant today and resonates with our youth. We have limited time, with survivors now in their twilight years. I would like their legacy to be embraced by the next generation.”

  • To learn more and download the free study guide, visit www.elirab.me.
  • Rabinowitz will be presenting his project in South Africa at the HOD in Johannesburg on February 4, at the Greenside Shul on February 5 and at the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre on Februasry 7.

English lyrics

Zog Nit Keynmol  (Never Say)

Never say that there is only death for you,

Though leaden skies may be concealing days of blue.

Because the hour we have hungered for is near,

Beneath our tread the earth shall tremble: we are here!

 

From lands so green with palms to lands all white with snow.

We shall be coming with our anguish and our woe,

And where a spurt of our blood fell on the earth,

There our courage and our spirit have rebirth!

 

The early morning sun will brighten our day,

And yesterday with our foe will fade away,

But if the sun delays and in the east remains,

This song as motto generations must remain.

 

This song was written with our blood and not with lead,

It's not a little tune that birds sing overhead,

This song a people sang amid collapsing walls,

With pistols in hand, they heeded to the call.

 

So never say that there is only death for you,

Though leaden skies may be concealing days of blue.

Because the hour we have hungered for is near,

Beneath our tread the earth shall tremble: we are here!

 

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