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

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.)

Read more at Tablet

More about: Holocaust, Jewish music, Vilna


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict