Full Text    |   Audio Files

Shep Zitler’s Survivor Story

There were 10 of us who stayed together for the entire 5 years and 7 months of our captivity. We had been through hell. There were 2 things we were not going to do: We were not going to get married and we were not going to have children. Why should our children suffer as Jews? Then we got married and had children. Life goes on. Now, our children are giving back to society.

Shep Zitler

I am proud of having been born in Vilna because it gave an eminent name to the Jewish people. Vilna was called the Jerusalem of Lithuania. Why? Because like Jerusalem the capital of Israel, Vilna was believed to be the capital of the DiasporaDiaspora: the dispersion of the Jews among the lands outside of Israel, in Hebrew "Galut," (literally, "exile). Source: Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish. Jews in Eastern Europe.

In Vilna, we believed in the book, in learning. We had the Strashun Library, the biggest library of Jewish learning in the world. We had Jewish organizations. The Bund started in Vilna. We had so many organizations: the left Zionists, the right Zionists, the middle Zionists, the Bund, the Communists, the religious party. A father and mother could have five children and they would belong to five different organizations. At dinner they would all be arguing because each wanted to persuade the other one to his point of view. We had the biggest cantors in Vilna. And, also we had the biggest thiefs.

Vilna Jews in the Polish Army

My private hell started six months before the war began. In February 1939, I was drafted into the Polish army. The army was the first time that I associated with Poles. In Vilna, the Jews lived on one side of the street and the Poles lived on the other side. We spoke Yiddish and Russian. My Polish accent was not that great. The Polish soldiers laughed at me.

Polish Identification Tag

In the Polish army we had a lieutenant named Walchek. He was skinny, six feet tall, handsome and he had boots that shined like a mirror. On his office he had a sign which read: ENTRY IS FORBIDDEN TO JEWS AND DOGS. We, Jews, were told, "First we are going to take care of the Germans, then we are going to take care of you." How did I feel going against my enemy, the Germans, fighting with my second enemy, the Poles?

There was no future for Jewish youth in Poland. When Jozef PilsudskiPilsudski, Jozef:(1867- 1935), Poland’s prominent leader between WWI and WWII. At the end of WWI Poland was granted renewed independence after 130 years of partition and political subjugation. Pilsudski, a popular military figure and political moderate, came to power in a coup in 1926 and continued to lead the country until his death in 1935.

He favored a policy (known as “sanacja”) that would unite all the ethnic groups in Poland, the Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Germans, Lithuanians and the Jews with the ethnic Poles. At the opposite end of the political spectrum was Roman Dmowski whose Endeks party espoused a policy of Polish domination and “Poland for the Poles.”

Marshal Pilsudski was a pragmatic and charismatic leader whose political heirs were unable to maintain the coalition on which his power was based. After his death a national boycott of Jewish businesses was organized and an campaign was started that would prohibit the kosher slaughtering of animals. Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.
died, they said to us, "Your father died, now we can do what we want with you." The anti-Semitism was terrible.

Execution of Polish POW’s

On September 1, 1939, the war started when Germany invaded Poland. Poland lost the warPoland’s Defeat: On September 1, 1939, German troops invaded Poland. Polish defenses crumbled before the German onslaught of tanks, motorized vehicles and attacks by dive-bombers on the civilian population. The German theory of Blitzkrieg (“lightning war”) involved massive concentrated attack.

After two weeks Germany controlled western Poland except for Warsaw, which held out for two more weeks. Meanwhile, on September 17, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east according to the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact signed in August 1939, which divided Poland into spheres of interest for each country. Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.
in sixteen days. I was with the 77th Pulk Piechoty (77th Infantry Regiment). Our unit was captured near RadomRadom: a city in central Poland of about 100,000 population before World War II, approximately one-third Jewish.

After Radom was seized by the German army on September 8, 1939 it was incorporated within the Generalgouvernement. The Generalgouvernement was a German administrative unit which was organized in occupied central and southern Poland but not directly incorporated into the German Reich.

Anti-Jewish persecutions and abductions to forced labor preceded the establishment in March, 1941 of the Radom ghetto. Allotted rations in the ghetto were 100 grams (3.5 oz) of bread daily per person. Hundreds were shot attempting to smuggle food in from the outside. Eventually, most of the ghetto residents were deported to Treblinka extermination camp. A few hundred Jewish survivors returned after the war to settle in Radom, but soon left the city. Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.
. We were sent to a prisoner-of-war camp near KielceKielce: site of a pogrom in 1946 where 42 Holocaust survivors were killed by a mob. The massacre at Kielce convinced most survivors that they had no future in Poland.

a medium-sized city in southeast Poland. 22,000 Jews lived there before WWII. When the city was liberated by the Soviet army, only 2 Jews remained. Gradually, about a 150 former residents came back, and they lived in the Jewish community building.

At the beginning of July 1946 anti-Semitic rumors spread through the town. It was said that a missing Polish boy had been killed by the Jews to use his blood to make matzot. His body was said to be in the basement of the Jewish community building. On July 4 a mob gathered outside the building. The mob attacked and killed 42 Jews and wounded 50 more. Order was restored by the central government in Warsaw. Seven of the main instigators and killers were tried and executed, and the missing Polish boy was later found in a nearby village.

The pogrom was a turning point in the attempt to rebuild a Jewish community Poland. Kielce convinced most survivors that Poland had no future for them. Of the 244,000 Jews who had returned to Poland after the war, only 80,000 remained by 1951. Sources: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust; Steinlauf, Bondage to the Dead.
. I remember that the Jews had already been separated from the Polish soldiers. The Germans could not tell the Jews apart from the other Polish soldiers. They depended on the Poles to tell them that.

Soldiers Return Home

Vilna at that time was technically located in Lithuania which was not at war with Germany. I was classified as one of the so-called Lithuanian Jews and not as a regular Polish soldier. So I was sent to a POW labor camp. This saved my life. The other Jewish soldiers were demobilized and sent back to Poland. There they faced almost certain death.

I was in various labor camps for five years and seven months. We belonged to Stalag VIII A. But we did not stay there. If we had stayed in the Stalag (prisoner-of-war camp) we would have starved like the Russian POW‘s we saw because there was not enough food there. They sent us to many different places to work. International law required us to kept in humane conditions, and it forbade Germany from forcing us to be slave laborers.

German Identification Tag

I was forced to work on the Autobahn near Krems, Austria. I was forced to load coal at LudwigsdorfLudwigsdorf: one of about 60 sub-camps of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp located in Lower Silesia. Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. . As Jews we were singled out for special treatment. At GoerlitzGoerlitz:one of about 60 sub-camps of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp located in Lower Silesia. Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. the Jews had to clean excrement out of the slit latrines with our hands. The Jews were always given the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs. Our lives were threatened and we were beaten. We were always hungry, and many of us did not survive.

Zitler Family, Vilna, 1936

This is the only picture I have of my family. It was taken on the occasion of my sister, Rachel, leaving for Palestine. It shows my four sisters, my mother and father, and my nephews and nieces. I am standing at the far right. Except for my sister Rachel and myself, none of them died a natural death. They were all killed. This is my Holocaust. After the war I came to know what happened to some of the members of my family. It is better to know how they died then not to know.

My oldest sister Sonia was married to the famous Professor Morgenstern who taught Polish literature at the Epstein-Szpeizer GymnasiumEpstein-Szpeizer Gymnasium: one of a number of Jewish private schools in Vilna. This high school was distinguished by the fact that it was progressive, secular and that Polish was the language of instruction.

Long after the war the records of the school were found by a former student, Yulian Rafes, who collected many of them into a book. It gives a glimpse into the lives of a privileged class of Vilna students before the war. Source: Rafes, The Way We Were Before Our Destruction.
. His daughter Tzerna was a gorgeous girl. She was the first grandchild in our family. I can remember her reciting a poem at a Passover Seder when she was 4 years old. It began, "Softly, softly goes the mouse." Tzerna was personally killed at PonaryPonary: a forest preserve located six miles from Vilna. Before the war it was used for outings and picnics, but it became a killing field for most of Vilna‘s Jews. The victims were shot to death by SS men and German police assisted by Lithuanian collaborators. Perhaps, 70,000 to 100,000 victims, the majority of them Jews, were murdered there. Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. by the sadist Martin WeissWeiss, Martin: (1903-?), SS-Hauptscharfuhrer assigned to the Vilna ghetto, the so-called “Boss of Ponary.” For a time he was the SS liaison in charge of a Lithuanian executioner unit. This unit, consisting of 45 to 150 volunteers, was responsible for killing at least 48,000 Jews at Ponary.

There are numerous stories of Martin Weiss’ sadism and sarcastic sense of humor. Abraham Sutzkever testifed at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial in February 1946, of his killing Gitele Tarlo, an eleven year old girl. Sutzkever also wrote of Weiss’s torture killing of young Tzerna Morgenstern in “Geto Vilna,” and a similar story is told in Martin Gilbert’s “The Holocaust.” Another account, the story of Weiss’ assisting his girlfriend in the killing of singer Liuba Levitska, is told in “Yes, We Sang!” In February 1950, Martin Weiss was tried before a court in Wurzburg, Germany and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Sources: Arad, Ghetto in Flames; Ran, Jerusalem of Lithuania; Sutzkever, Getto Vilna; Kalisch, Yes, We Sang!; Gilbert, The Holocaust; Letter 10/31/97 from Satu Haase-Webb, Researcher, Office of the Historian at USHMM.
. Her story was written up in a book by the Yiddish poet Abraham SutzkeverSutzkever, Abraham: (1913- ), a Yiddish poet, born in a small town near Vilna in 1913. He became a leader in the “Yung Vilne” literary movement before WWII. When the Nazis established the Vilna ghetto he joined the “Paper Brigade,” a group who were hiding documents from the archives of YIVO, the Yiddish Scientific Institute.

Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg had created the Institute Zur Erforschung der Judenfrage (Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question), whose purpose was to study the vanished Jewish race. YIVO’s Judaica collection was being ransacked to provide exhibits for a museum of Jewry in Frankfurt.

In 1943 Sutzkever escaped from the Vilna ghetto into the forest where he became a partisan. In July 1944 he returned to Vilna after its liberation by the Soviet army. He began to dig up the Jewish treasures which had been hidden. A Museum of Jewish Art and Culture was established, the first Jewish institution in Vilna after the war.

Mr. Sutzkever testified at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. In 1947 he emigrated to Israel where he founded the premier Yiddish literary journal, “Di Goldene Keyt” (The Golden Chain). Sources: Fishman, “Those Daring Escapades of Vilna’s “Papir Brigade”; Goodman,”Translating the Poetry of Abraham Sutzkever”; Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal, February 27, 1946, Vol. 8 [pp. 302-308];Dawidowicz, From that Place and Time.
, and also mentioned at the Eichmann Trial, Tzerna’s Story. Recently, a book was published that contained two of Tzerna’s school essays.

After the war I got a letter from Israel from a man who identified himself as the brother-in-law of my youngest sister, Doba. Doba had married his brother during the war. They were living in the Vilna ghetto. He, the brother-in-law, was a member of the partisansPartisans: guerrilla forces operating in enemy occupied territory. In World War II there were partisan groups of various political, national and religious complexions operating mainly in eastern Europe and the Balkans. The major areas of activity in eastern Europe were in Belorussia, in Lithuania and in the Ukraine. There were also Jewish underground movements that functioned within the ghettos and camps of Poland. Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. . Both his wife and Doba had given birth to baby boys at around the same time. A Polish peasant was found who agreed to hide the two babies. However, there was a stipulation. The babies could not be circumcised because then they could be identified as Jewish. The other baby was not circumcised and he was sent with the Polish woman.

Doba decided to ask her parents what to do. My parents were very religious. My father said, "The boy is Jewish; he has to be circumcised." So Doba’s little boy was circumcised, and he stayed with our family in the ghetto. All of them perished. The other little boy, who was hidden with the Polish woman, was picked up after the war by his father. His wife had been killed. Today, that child works for IBM. His daughter was Miss Vermont.


Doba and her infant were in that part of the ghetto known as KalisKalis: a small labor camp located outside of the Vilna ghetto. It housed about 1250 workers and their families.

The camp resembled a ghetto more than a concentration camp in that families were not separated and the clothing was ordinary. The workers were engaged in making fur garments for the German army. This involved re-manufacturing confiscated civilian fur coats into winter uniforms.

On March 27, 1944, a deportation (Aktion; action) involving the children took place. It was said that the children were to be taken to a clinic near the camp to receive anti-typhoid shots. Some of the mothers went with their children to the “vaccinations.” Martin Weiss arrived at the clinic, grabbed the children and loaded them onto trucks. The mothers resisted and several of them were put on the trucks also. One woman who shouted “Murderer” to Weiss was shot on the spot. The children were sent to death camps. With the Soviet army near and the German front collapsing, the inmates of Kalis were taken to Ponary and murdered or sent to other camps further west. Sources: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust; Arad, Ghetto in Flames.
. It was the last part of the ghetto to be liquidated at the very end of the war. I was told by someone that Doba had a chance to be liberated by the Russians if she would give up her son. This she would not do. She chose to die with her son.

Shep and Rachel Zitler

My father, besides being a very religious man, was a Zionist. In 1926, he was doing well financially. He considered moving the entire family to Palestine. So he sent Professor Morgenstern to Palestine to look around for business opportunities. Morgenstern came back to Vilna and said, "You are having it good here, it is very hard over there." So the family stayed in Vilna.

My father sent the wrong man. Professor Morgenstern was a very nice man, but he was a professor of Polish literature. Can you imagine? What kind of opportunities could a Professor of Polish literature find in Palestine? Eventually, my brother Benjamin went to a kibbutz in 1933, and my sister Rachel went to Palestine in 1936.

Near the end of the war we were marching two or three days without stopping. The Germans told us to lie down in a field. We slept. The Russian calvary woke us up. About 30 of them on horses rode up to us. The first thing they said to us was, I will never forget it, "Give us your watches." We learned that they were crazy for wristwatches. We told them who we were, and they left us alone. They smiled and rode away. That was our liberation on April 22, 1945.

There were eleven of us Lithuanian Jews together at this time. We were free. No Germans. We went into the villages and there was plenty of food there. One of us died from overeating, and then we were ten.

When the war was over, we thought we had survived because we were smarter than other people. Then we talked to other survivors. Plenty of smart people died. We learned we were just luckier than they were.

Somehow we knew nobody was left alive at home. We did not want to go back to Poland. We wanted to stick together and we wanted to go to Palestine. So we lied to the Russians that we were members of the Jewish BrigadeJewish Brigade: a brigade composed of Jewish volunteers from Palestine who enlisted in the British Army. They fought in Italy and were the only regular Jewish formation to fight in WWII under the Jewish flag, recognized as representing the Jewish people. Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. . The Russians sent us to the Americans. We told them the same lie. We were members of the Jewish Brigade and we had lost our papers. So the Americans sent us to the British. The British brought us to England to a camp near Newcastle.

There was a Jewish Captain in the British Army, who was named Goldman. He came to see us. We told the truth to him because he was a Jew. We said we were Polish soldiers who wanted to go to Palestine. At 4:30 the next morning, they woke us up, and then they took us to a camp in Scotland for Polish Soldiers.

Polish Resettlement Corps Registration Book (pp. 2-3)

Goldman betrayed our secret. Can you imagine how we felt? We did not want to be back with the Poles. We did not expect to be back in the Polish Army which we hated. That evening we went into the canteen and there were two VolksdeutschVolksdeutscher: a Nazi term for a person of German ancestry living outside of Germany.

They did not have German or Austrian citizenship as defined by the Nazi term Reichsdeutscher. Nazi Germany made great efforts to enlist the support of the Volksdeutshe, who constituted minorites in several countries.

Nazi Germany received support from the Volksdeutsche; hundreds of thousands joined the German armed forces,including the SS. Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.
speaking German. We got into a fight with them. We were so depressed. They did not know what to do with us so they gave us leave. We went to London. The Jewish community took us in and showed us the sights. We were stuffing ourselves on the food, and we went to see Parliament.

Chaim Berlin’s Wedding

After six months it became clear we were not going to be allowed to go to Palestine. I got a temporary release from the army, and I took a job in the East End of London selling suits. I got three pounds a week for working all week long and half a day on Sunday. After three years my boss said to me, "You have finished ‘Harvard’- - now you can go to America to sell."

Polish Resettlement Corps Registration Book (p. 4)

On December 23, 1948, my boat landed in New York. An uncle who lived in New Orleans sponsored me to go to America. I spent the first night in Brooklyn at the home of one of my ten army friends who was from Vilna and who was with me in camp all those five years and seven months. He had gotten married in May 1948. "Sasha…" he told me--my friends called me Sasha, in America they call me Shep. "Sasha," he said, "here in America we take a shower every night."

I took the train to New Orleans. I had $32.15 in my pocket and no job. I couldn’t drive a car. I spoke broken English. In Vilna, my profession was as a dental technician making false teeth. Somebody recommended me to a Jewish doctor by the name of Kaplan. He said to me, "Well, I guess we can get you a job paying fifty dollars a week." He talks to me a bit more and then he asks me. "How long has it been since you worked in your profession?" "Nine years," I said. "Nine years, that is a long time," he said. I was still a young man of 32. Then he looked at me and he said, "Can you sell shoes?"

I looked at him and I thought, "What does he mean can I sell shoes? I never sold shoes in my life." I asked him, "What do you mean? I don’t know if I can sell shoes?" "Well, I don’t mean shoes," he said. "Can you be a salesman? Can you go out on the road and sell to people? You will make better than as a dental technician." Well, that convinced me, and I asked around. I had a cousin who introduced me to two brothers who were in the wholesale ladies dresses business. They called themselves Greene’s Fashion Mart.

Of course, I wasn’t a salesperson. I didn’t even have a car. So they brought me inside and paid me thirty dollars a week. Later I became a salesman on the route. My cousin taught me how to drive a car in two hours. Then I was driving like mad. Everybody was flying around. I really couldn’t drive, but everyday I got better. I had to get better or I would get killed and you wouldn’t hear this story from me now.

I called on small towns in the State of Louisiana. Later, I borrowed some money and became self employed. I bought property. After one year in America I married and had a son, Justin, who is a lawyer. My wife died, and I married Anne, my present wife.

I remember the first time I came into a bus in New Orleans. I sat in the back of the bus, where I like to sit. A few people looked at me. That was where the blacks were supposed to sit. I found out about segregation, but I did not understand.

In 1961, George Lincoln RockwellRockwell, George Lincoln: (1918-1967) an American neo-Nazi who achieved notoriety out of proportion to the minuscule number of his followers due to his flair for publicity. He founded the American Nazi Party in 1958 and was assassinated by one of his former followers.

He and his “storm troopers” would appear in full Nazi regalia after informing the media in advance. In May 1961, he sent word to the New Orleans Police Department that he intended to picket the premier of the movie “Exodus.” In 1967, he was assassinated by one of his discontented followers. Sources: Powell, When Hate Came to Town, www.biography.com.
, the American Nazi, planned to come to New Orleans to demonstrate in front of the picture show "Exodus" which was showing in a theater on Baronne Street. There were going to be 10 or 12 of these Nazis demonstrating, and they were going to be carrying swastikas. Our people didn’t like that. Word went around that there was going to be a meeting at Ralph Rosenblatt‘s butcher shop and later we had another meeting at the Jewish Community Center. Barney Mintz, the chairman of the Anti-defamation League, was there, and I remember we were telling him, "We don’t like it and we are going to kill him." Can you imagine it?

Of course, we were just talking. But it was still fresh in our minds because we had only been 12 years since coming out of the DPDisplaced Person: (DP), one of approximately 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 persons who had been uprooted by the war and who by the end of 1945 had refused to or could not return to their prewar homes.

When the war ended, most Jewish DP’s were housed in camps behind barbed wire in poor conditions. Until the State of Israel was established in 1948, legal immigration to Palestine was blocked by official British policy. Immigration to the United States in meaningful numbers was also severely restricted until the passage of the Displaced Persons’ Act in 1948. Between 1945 and 1952 approximately 400,000 DP’s immigrated to the United States, of whom approximately 20 percent, or 80,000, were Jewish. Between 1948 and 1951, almost 700,000 Jews emigrated to Israel, including more than 2/3 of the Jewish displaced persons in Europe.

Displaced Persons camps were set up at the end of WWII to house the millions of uprooted persons who were unwilling or unable to return to their homes. By the end of 1946, the number of Jewish DP’s was 250,000, of whom 185,000 were in Germany, 45,000 in Austria and 20,000 in Italy.

The Jewish survivors languished in camps primarily in the Allied zones of occupation in Germany. At first the DPs lived behind barbed wire fences under guard in camps that included former concentration camps. For example, in the British zone the survivors were held at the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Some DP’s were housed in better conditions in residential facilities. Eventually, the Jews gained recognition as a special group with their own needs and put into separate facilities. Sources: USHMM, Historical Atlas of the Holocaust; Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.
camps. I do remember I was in a car with three other survivors, and we were going around and around Baronne Street in front of the theater. Sure enough we saw him. We were so mad we wanted to stop the car, but there were Jewish people from all kinds of organizations there. The police were there, and in five minutes the police took him away and led him out of town.

Then I got to thinking, and some others got to thinking, too. We were going to have more strength if we were organized than if we were individuals. It was sometime in June 1961, at the Jewish Community Center, that we had our first meeting. Around 60 to 80 survivors came, and we decided to organize ourselves as a group. It was a secret ballot, and I was elected the first president. We decided to call ourselves The New Americans Social Club. I think we had 60 members; right now, we have 28. More than half of us have died out, but we are still strong. We still call ourselves The New Americans. People are laughing, saying we are not new Americans anymore, but we like the name.

In 1981, there was the First World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. It was organized by an Auschwitz survivor, Ernest Michel. I met Ernst Michel in New York in 1977. He said it was his dream from when he came out of Auschwitz to bring all of the Holocaust survivors to Israel for a world gathering. It became my dream also.

I came to the members of our club and said, "We are going to save money every month for a couple of years." We had 37 or 38 people on that trip to Israel, proportionately the biggest percentage of Holocaust survivors from any other city in the United States. Many people said, "Why didn’t we do this before?" The answer was that it took 30 years to heal the wounds before survivors would come. It was just the right time.

In 1983, in Washington we had a gathering of 18,000 Holocaust survivors. For 18,000 people we did not get just a congressman or a senator. We got the president. Then we met again in Philadelphia in 1985 and elected Benjamin Meed as our president.

The main job right now is to speak out whenever we can. We go to high schools, to colleges, to universities, or to NASA, or to the Social Security office. I feel personally, why should I talk to Jewish people? Jewish people should know about the Holocaust. I go out of my way to talk to non-Jewish people. If I speak to 60 students or 40 students or 80 students, then they will know that the Holocaust did exist. It is important never to forget that we have been through hell in our lifetimes if we don’t want the Holocaust to repeat itself.

The whole business with Hitler lasted only 12 years. It started in 1933, and Hitler committed suicide in 1945, which is only 12 years. What is 12 years in history? A blink of an eye. I divide Hitler’s reign into two parts: 6 years, 1933 to 1939, and 6 years, 1939 to 1945. From 1933 to 1939, Hitler was building, building, building and from 1939 to 1945 he was killing, killing, killing.

Once a year we commemorate the Holocaust at a ceremony held at the Jewish Community Center on the 27th day of the month of Nissan, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. My part for the last few years has been to lead the singing of the Hymn of the Holocaust Survivors, the Partisan Song, Zog Nit Keyn MolZog Nit Keyn Mol:Zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letsten veg (“Never say that you are on the final road”), the so-called Partisan Song, written by Hirsh Glick. In April 1943 when news of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising reached the Vilna ghetto, Hirsh Glick wrote this defiant anthem. It has become the universal Hymn of the Holocaust Survivors. Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. . It was written by Hirsch GlickGlick, Hirsch:(1922-1944) Lithuanian poet and partisan and author of "Zog Nit Keyn Mol," the anthem of the partisans.

He was born in a working class family in Vilna. He began to write poetry at age 13 and at 16 was co-founder of a group of poets who called themselves Yungvald (Young Forest). He was active in the artistic activities which were being carried out in the ghetto and participated in the underground movement which was preparing for a revolt.

He was later deported to concentration camps in Estonia where he continued to compose songs and poems. In July 1944, with the Russians approaching, he escaped into the forest to try to join up with the partisan fighters. He was never heard from again, and it is presumed he was caught by the Germans and executed. Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.
, a poet and a partisan fighter. He was born in 1922 and was killed in 1944. He was 22 years old. He was a young fellow, brilliant. He was also from Vilna.

Audio Files

  • Bei Mir Bist Du Shein

    • Duration: 32 seconds
    • Copyright: ©1999, John Menszer
    • Transcript: Bei mir bist du shein,
      Bei mir host du chein,
      Bei mir bist du alles oif di velt.
      Oi was zu sheine meidlach,
      Hob ich doch zehn fon dir?
      Un oisgekliben fun zi alle.
      Hob ich nor dir, dir, dir, dir.
      Bei mir bist du shein,
      Bei mir host du chein,
      Bei mir bist du alles oif di velt.

      La, la, la, la, la, la.

      To me you are beautiful,
      To me you have grace,
      To me you are everything in the world.
      How many beautiful girls,
      Have I seen besides you?
      I chose one from them all.
      I have only you, you, you, you.
      To me you are beautiful.
      To me you have grace.
      To me you are everything in the world.
      La, la, la, la, la, la.
  • I Was Born in Vilna, Poland

    • Duration: 106 seconds
    • Copyright: ©1999, John Menszer
    • Transcript: I was born in Vilna, Poland. Right now it’s Vilnius, Lithuania, the capital of Lithuania. I am very proud of being born in a town like Vilna because they gave the eminent name to the Jewish people, to the Jewish world. “ Jerusalem deLithuania” --What does it mean? That’s the Jerusalem in the
      Diaspora: the dispersion of the Jews among the lands outside of Israel, in Hebrew “Galut,” (literally, “exile”).
      Source: Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish.
      of the Jews in the Eastern … That made this the capital, like Jerusalem in Israel is the capital of Israel, that’s what they do. So they believed in Vilna is the capital of the Eastern European countries, and that’s why they gave it that name, “Jerusalem deLithuania.” And why? We did because in Vilna was … we weren’t Chassidic. We believed, the Orthodox Jews, they were Misnagdim … we believed in the book, not in dancing and singing. We didn’t do it. Right now I am saying I am not against it: we are going to the synagogue, you dance and you sing. We didn’t do it, because we were learning. And Vilna has a name. We had a library in Vilna, Strashun they called it, and before the war it was the biggest library of Jewish learning in the world. If anybody all over, from America, if they wanted really to learn and to know anything about Jewishness, they had to come to Vilna, to my home town. That is why I am proud of being born in that particular city. We had … we had everything in Vilna.
  • The Story of “The Partisan Song”

    • Duration: 84 seconds
    • Copyright: ©1999, John Menszer
    • Transcript: Shep: You want me to sing “The Partisan Song”?

      Interviewer: Oh, that would be great …

      Shep: You see, again, when I begin, I said that I am proud of being from Vilna. There are so many little things of Vilna. Like here is “The Partisan Song,” which it means the hymn, the hymn of the holocaust survivors all over the world. It was written in many, many languages and of course in Yiddish, they say, “Zog nit keinmol az du geist dem letzte veg.” [“Never say that you are on the final road.”] It was written by Herschel Glick, a fellow from Vilna. He was a “Bundist.” He wrote that song. He went to fight in the Partisan … he was killed at age 22. He was born in 1922, and he was killed. He died in 1944. He was 22 years old, a young fellow, brilliant. Also from Vilna. Now this song was picked up, and if anything that has to do with the holocaust, the Jews sing it all over the world … in Israel, all over, everywhere where there are…we are singing them, and as a matter fact I lead that that song yearly in the last few years in the Jewish Community Center, where we are having the memorial after the six million.
  • Two Yiddish Songs

    • Duration: 102 seconds
    • Copyright: ©1999, John Menszer
    • Transcript: Shep: Do you want me to sing you a few Yiddish songs?
      Interviewer: Yeah, that would be great.

      Shep: Sure.


      [Shteit] a bocher un tracht, tracht, tracht
      Di gantze nacht, nacht, nacht
      Vemen tzu nemen,
      Un nit farshemen
      Vemen tzu nemen,
      Un nit farshemen

      Tumbala, tumbala, tum balalaika
      Tumbala, tumbala, tum balalaika
      Tum balalaika, shpil balalaika, tum balalaika
      Freilich zol zein

      Narisher bocher vos darfst du fregen
      A shtein ken vaksen, vaksen on regen
      A libe ken brenen un nit oifheren
      A hartz ken beinken, veinen, on treren

      Tumbala, tumbala, tum balalaika
      Tumbala, tumbala, tum balalaika
      Tum balalaika, shpil balalaika, tum balalaika
      Freilich zol zein


      Az der Rebbe Elimelech iz gewalt zei a freilich
      Iz gewalt zei a freilich, Elimelech
      Hat er gerufen di Chassidm, un di Chassidim haben …
      Un di fidelers zei fidelen
      Un az di fideldike fidlers haben fidledik gefidelt haben fideldik gefidelt haben zei
      Un az di fideldike fidlers haben fidledik gefidelt, haben fideldik gefidelt, haben zei

      English Translations:


      A young man stands and thinks, thinks, thinks
      The whole night, night, night
      Whom to take [in marriage] and not to offend
      Whom to take [in marriage] and not to offend

      Tumbala, tumbala, tum balalaika
      Tumbala, tumbala, tum balalaika
      Tum balalaika, play balalaika, tum balalaika,
      It will be joyful

      You foolish young man, what are you asking?
      A stone can grow, grow without rain,
      A love can burn and not be consumed,
      A heart can yearn, cry without tears

      Tumbala, tumbala, tum balalaika
      Tumbala, tumbala, tum balalaika
      Tum balalaika, play balalaika, tum balalaika,
      It will be joyful


      When the Rebbe Elimelech wanted to be joyous
      Wanted to be joyous, Elimelech
      He called the Chassidim and the Chassidim …
      And the fiddlers fiddled …
  • Wedding Dresses in Clinton, Louisiana

    • Duration: 201 seconds
    • Copyright: ©1999, John Menszer
    • Transcript: In this country when I went out on the road again selling ladies’ dresses, I called in a small town in Clinton, Louisiana. There was Mrs. Stuart. There was a general merchandise store. They had anything under the sun. When the movie with Paul Newman “Long Hot Summer” that was filmed in her store … And I came over there, and they sold everything under the sun. They sold almost everything: feed for the mules, and shoes, and ladies’ dresses, and sugar, and fat, and everything. And I walked in over there, and I had only one kind of dresses to sell, 4 dollars and 75 cents. And the old lady, she was an English lady, very rich as I understood. She was one of the richest women in this little town, Clinton. And she says to me, “Mister, I only selling house dresses, which they sells for 2 dollars and 98 cents. Now I cannot pay you 4.75. That’s all I sell is 2.98.” Then I say, “Well, I don’t have none for 2.98, but you do sell it to the same women, they are buying. They can buy at 4.95, you sell them for 6.95, and they are going to get wedding and they are going to get married in the dresses.” And I talked her in, and she says “O.K., I will take a dozen dresses,” and that is why I made this kind of money. She never bought anything, that price goods. And she said to me, “Mister, from where are you from?” And I said, “I am from England.” I have to laugh because it really looks funny with my accent right now after 50 years, and at that time it was even worse. I meant because I came from England. After the war I was shipped to England, and I was in England three years. And I learned a little bit English, very little. But she says to me, “Really? I thought the English people speak better English than you.” And that was really funny. But I made friends with her and after I came back and I sold her, she was a good customer for many years to come, for many years to come. But that was really funny: She says to me, “I thought people from England speak better English than you.”
  • Zog Nit Keyn Mol (The Partisan Song) by Hirsch Glick

    • Duration: 96 seconds
    • Copyright: ©1999, John Menszer
    • Transcript: Zog nit keyn mol az du geyst dem letsten veg,
      Khotsh himlen blayene farsthtelen bloye teg.

      [Never say you are walking your final road,
      Though leaden skies conceal the days of blue.]

      Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sha’ah,
      S’vet a poyk ton undzer trot mir zaynen do!

      [The hour that we have longed for will appear,
      Our steps will beat out like drums: We are here!]

      Fun grinem palmenland biz vaysen land fun shney,
      Mir kumen on mit undzer payn, mit undzer vey.

      [From the green lands of palm trees to lands white with snow,
      We are coming with our all pain and all our woe.]

      Un vu gefalen s’iz a shpritz fun undzer blut,
      Shprotzen vet dort undzer gevurah, undzer mut.

      [Wherever a spurt of our blood has fallen to the ground,
      There our might and our courage will sprout again.]

      S’vet di morgenzum bagilden undz dem haynt,
      Un der nekhten vet farshvinden miten faynd.

      [The morning sun will shine on us one day,
      Our enemy will vanish and fade away.]

      Nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in dem kayor,
      Vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tsu dor.

      [But if the sun and dawn come too late for us,
      From generation to generation let them be singing this song.]

      Dos lid geshriben iz mit blut un nit mit blay,
      S’iz nit keyn lidel fun a foygel oyf der fray,

      [This song is written in blood not in pencil-lead.
      It is not sung by the free-flying birds overhead,]

      Dos hot a folk tsvishen falendike vent,
      Dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent!

      [But a people stood among collapsing walls,
      And sang this song with pistols in their hands!]
Shep Zitler Jeannine Burk Joseph Sher Isak Borenstein Solomon Radasky Eva Galler