The Eleven-Year-Old-Boy Who Wrote the Most Famous Song of the Vilna Ghetto

Sept. 25 2020

From September 22 to 24, 1943, the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators “liquidated” the Vilna ghetto. Most of its residents were either murdered in a nearby forest or shipped off to be murdered at the Sobibor death camp; a few hundred able-bodied males were sent to nearby forced-labor camps. Until then, the ghetto’s residents—despite conditions of extreme privation, under which death from hunger and disease was commonplace—managed to maintain a thriving cultural life. It was this atmosphere that produced the haunting Yiddish song Shtiler, shtiler (“Quiet, Quiet”), as Aviad Te’eni writes:

Ghetto dwellers had not only kindergartens and elementary schools, a eder and yeshivas, a vocational school and a gymnasium—toward the end, they even began having compulsory school attendance—but also schools of music, art, eurythmics, and theater, a children’s club, and a youth club. There was a theater, a symphony orchestra, and choirs (a Yiddish choir and two Hebrew ones), as well as a cultural center with a lending library and a reading room, an archive, a statistical bureau, and a museum. Concerts, literary evenings, lectures, exhibitions and sports competitions were held.

Such was the setting of [the] decision in December 1942 to hold a competition for which the song that later became “Quiet, Quiet” was composed by young Alexander (Alek) Wolkowyski, [then eleven years old]. The original poem was written by his father, Noah (Leon) Wolkowyski, in Polish, the language spoken in their home. The man who translated it into Yiddish, the mother tongue of most Vilna Jews, and added two stanzas to it was Shmerke Kaczerginski, who was involved in saving thousands of Jewish books and tens of thousands of Jewish documents from the Germans.

The song was performed before a large audience in the ghetto theater.

First published in Hebrew translation in Mandatory Palestine in September 1945, Shtiler, Shtiler would not appear in Yiddish for another year. But it would be remembered, and was frequently performed in Israel at Yom HaShoah ceremonies. As for Alek Wolkowyski, he survived the war and, renamed Alexander Tamir, had a successful career as an Israeli concert pianist. (Audio of the song, and a translated text, can be found at the link below.)

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More about: Holocaust, Jewish music, Vilna

 

How China Equips the Islamic Republic to Repress Its People

In its dedication to bringing totalitarianism into the 21st century, the Chinese Communist party has developed high-tech forms of surveillance using facial-recognition software, a vast system of “social credit,” and careful control over its subjects’ cellular phones. Even stricter and more invasive measures are applied to the Uyghurs of the northwestern part of the country. Beijing is also happy to export its innovations in tyranny to allies like Iran and Russia. Playing a key role in these advances is a nominally private company called Tiandy Technologies. Craig Singleton describes its activities:

Both Tiandy testimonials and Chinese-government press releases advertise the use of the company’s products by Chinese officials to track and interrogate Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang province. According to human-rights groups, Chinese authorities also employ Tiandy products, such as “tiger chairs,” to torture Uyghurs and other minorities.

Iran has long relied on China to augment its digital surveillance capabilities, and Tehran was an early adopter of Beijing’s “social-credit” system, which it wields to assess citizens’ behavior and trustworthiness. . . . Iranian government representatives have publicized plans to leverage smart technologies, including AI-powered face recognition, to maintain regime stability and neutralize dissent. Enhanced cooperation with China is central to those efforts.

At present, Tiandy is not subject to U.S. sanctions or export controls. In light of Tiandy’s operations in both Xinjiang and Iran, policymakers should consider removing the company, its owner, and stakeholders from the international financial system and global supply chains.

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More about: China, Human Rights, Iran, Totalitarianism, U.S. Foreign policy