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.)

Read more at Tablet

More about: Holocaust, Jewish music, Vilna


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount