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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Read more at Tablet

More about: Holocaust, Jewish music, Vilna

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter