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"Show the Tombs and the Names": The Song That Reveals the Will of the Jews of Kaunas - Walla! culture

2021-04-08T04:52:42.189Z

In the ghetto in the city of Kaunas, Lithuania, Avraham Axelrod wrote, according to a well-known poem, "In the Yeshiva of Slobodka", which calls for a story about the horrors of the Holocaust and a reminder of the city's murdered. It is a story about a ghetto where a "bead industry" flourished in the face of murder and abuse, and about a man who documented in his poems what was happening, and left all his testimony in a notebook.



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"Show the Tombs and the Names": the song that reveals the will of the Jews of Kaunas

In the ghetto in the city of Kaunas, Lithuania, Avraham Axelrod wrote, according to a well-known poem, "In the Yeshiva of Slobodka", which calls for a story about the horrors of the Holocaust and a reminder of the city's murdered.

It is a story about a ghetto where a "bead industry" flourished in the face of murder and abuse, and about a man who documented in his poems what was happening, and left all his testimony in a notebook.

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  • Kaunas

  • Lithuania

  • The Holocaust

Nadav Menuhin

Wednesday, 07 April 2021, 16:30 Updated: 19:59

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Two children in a pile of pieces of furniture and objects in the Kaunas (Kovno) ghetto in winter, Lithuania, 1941-1944 (Photo: Official website, The Oster Visual Documentation Center, We - The Jewish People's Museum, Zvi Kadoshin Collection)

"In the yeshiva of Slobodka, in the ghetto of Lithuania,


an old sun sits there alone.


Sitting and saying is a final confession to him


and writing a will to his sister's house"


("In the yeshiva of Slobodka" by Avraham Axelrod, translation: Shlomo Ibn Shoshan)

Kaunas, Lithuania was a vibrant Jewish city.

In the city of Avraham Mapo, Leah Goldberg and Emanuel Levins, Jewish communities from various denominations lived at the same time, praying in more than twenty synagogues, reading dozens of newspapers and magazines, arguing and living.

In all, 37,000 Jews lived in Kaunas before the Holocaust.



One of the Jewish symbols of the area was the "Knesset of Israel" yeshiva - the famous Slobodka yeshiva, located in a suburb of the same name in Kaunas.

On the eve of World War II, a new building for the yeshiva was built through donations, but its students did not enjoy it.

With the Soviet occupation it was expropriated, and even during the war years no studies were held in it.



One of the most fascinating testimonies of those black years in the history of the local community is a chilling poem called "In the Yeshiva of Slobodka (the Will)", written by one of the city's ghetto residents - Avraham Axelrod.

The sacred and the profane, the murder and the hope of liberation mix with him, and his familiar melody helped him to be etched in consciousness.

This is the story of the song, its author, and the events behind it, and of its calling to the hearers: to remember, to remember and nothing to forget.

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At a Slobodka meeting performed by the Ghetto Fighters

"When you are liberated, Jews,


tell a book to the children,


about the image that flowed there,


about the horrific killing,


and graves, names - show there


in the Ninth Fortress"

As part of Operation Ribbentrop-Molotov, the region was annexed to the Soviet Union, but in the summer of 1941, after Operation Barbarossa began, Kaunas was quickly occupied.

With the occupation, Lithuanian nationalists launched a brutal pogrom in the suburb of Slobodka: houses were set on fire and entire families inside, Jews were forced to dig a grave for themselves and shot into it, and evidence of other types of abuse is unbearable, in a way the paper does not tolerate.

Thousands of other Jews were captured and brought to a fortress outside the city (the Seventh Fortress - and more on that later), deprived of food and water, dozens of women were raped, and thousands more were killed by Gestapo and Lithuanian nationalists in the following days, almost all men.



Only later, in July, was the ghetto established in the same Slobodka suburb, and the Jews of Kaunas were forced to leave it.

The ghetto was closed in mid-August 1941, and about 30,000 Jews were crammed into it in terrible density.

Among the Jews who entered the ghetto was Axelrod, author of the "Slobodka Yeshiva."

He himself was born in Kaunas (Kovno) in 1902, but came to the ghetto as a refugee from Warsaw with his wife and daughter.

The ambiguous name of the song of course referred to the ultra-Orthodox institution, but the "Slobodka Yeshiva" is in fact also a collective name for the entire ghetto.

Abandoned furniture and objects in the Kaunas (Kovno) ghetto after the Great Aktion, October 1941 (Photo: Official website, Yad Vashem Museum, courtesy of Avraham Tori)

The ninth fort mentioned in the poem is one squad in a chain of forts built around Kaunas by the Russian Tsar Alexander II in the late 19th century, to stop a future attack from Germany.

However, in World War I the line of forts was found to be useless, and they were quickly occupied by the German army.

Between the two world wars a prison operated on the site, while the Nazis turned it, as well as several other fortresses in the chain, into an arena of abuse and mass murder in pits.

In the Great Aktion at the end of October 1941, 9,200 of the ghetto's Jews were murdered on the spot.

In the same year Axelrod wrote "In the Yeshiva of Slobodka", and in addition dedicated more poems to the victims of "The Ninth Fort".



The murder continued on the spot intermittently throughout the war years, with sometimes the victims coming from other places.

Rami Neuderper, a researcher in the Kaunas ghetto, clarifies that everyone in the ghetto knew what was going on at the Ninth Fort, "because they heard the echoes of the shots and saw where they were going. There were also some who managed to get out between the bodies and return to the ghetto," he told Walla!

culture.

In March 1943, a large group of Jews and the elderly were murdered on the spot.

Axelrod's daughter was probably one of them.

The "Ninth Fort" near the Kaunas (Kovno) ghetto, after the liberation, Lithuania, 1944 (Photo: Official website, The Oster Visual Documentation Center, We - The Jewish People's Museum, Zvi Kadoshin Collection)

"Let the sun go down - his will remains,


in the hearts of Jews - in tiny cradles,


in letters of gold, the


life in the ghetto

will be recorded-described

, his wish, his piyyut"

"Most of the Jews in Kaunas were not ultra-Orthodox and their lives were far from yeshiva life," says Neuderper, explaining: "The yeshiva symbolizes traditional Judaism, before the Enlightenment and before Zionism, which are the currents that actually represent most Jews in Kaunas."

According to him, the yeshiva members constituted "a pole of a minority - but an important minority in the ghetto."



They did not study Torah in the new yeshiva building of Slobodka.

"The yeshiva ceased to exist even before the ghetto, even during the Soviet era," says Neuderper. "The yeshiva building was neglected."

According to one testimony, it was a place that "served the Germans as a place for killed puppies."

However, the ghetto police received permission to use it as a center for social events for the police, and through renovations it was actually converted into a hall where concerts by the ghetto orchestra, which sometimes performed with a choir.

Dozens of concerts were held by the orchestra, and among other things it also performed Hebrew songs, by Rachel for example.



And not only that - in the shadow of murder and horror, the Kaunas ghetto was full of cultural life: a literary circle, art exhibitions (including the artist Esther Lurie, who documented what was happening in her photos), lectures, football and chess competitions, a drama class for youth, and more.

An underground library also operated from a hiding place, and "Musa Doug's 40 Days," for example, passed from hand to hand, according to one testimony.

More on Walla!

"Moranov", "The Red Orchestra", "Those Who Remained": Recommendations for watching the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021

To the full article

Piles of books transferred to the Kaunas (Kovno) ghetto, 1941 (Photo: Official website, The Oster Visual Documentation Center, We - The Jewish People's Museum, Zvi Kadoshin Collection)

No less than all these, a popular creation in the ghetto.

"In every street, in every yard, songs, winged sayings, jokes popped up," reads the memoir "Lithuanian Jewry."

Many have written rhyming poems, which respond to events, document the murderous violence, and sometimes even sharply criticize the ghetto's Jewish institutions.

These went by word of mouth and gained popularity.

Neuderper says that during his research he located about 150 such songs, most of them satirical.

One of them, by Larka Rosenblum, describes the "bead industry in the ghetto": "Every ministry demonstrates ability, talent on the doorstep of every door, soon - ha, derision and contempt - will speak here in rhyme" (translation: Joshua Tan-Pi).



Like many songs written during the Holocaust, a significant portion of these songs were based on familiar melodies from a variety of sources.

Axelrod, the author of the song, specialized himself in this genre.

Among the poems he wrote in the ghetto are one poem, "Beim Geta-Tuirel" ("At the Ghetto Gate") written according to "Oifn Pripechik" ("On the Brother"), and another poem, "The Eternal Jew" ("The Eternal Jew") sung According to the melody of "My Shtetele Belz" ("My Town of Belz") - both are very famous Yiddish songs.

Documented in songs the horrors of the ghetto.

Avraham Axelrod (Photo: courtesy of the family)

"Slobodka's Yeshiva" also relies on a well-known Yiddish song, perhaps the best known - "Raisins with Almonds" ("Raisins and Almonds") by Avraham Goldfaden, one of the forefathers of Jewish theater whose short story is detailed here.

Goldfaden believed that without songs in plays, "a Jewish play remains without a spirit."

Thus, within the very successful operetta "Shulamit" from 1880, among various songs he wrote and accompanies the plot (adaptation of a Talmudic legend about the rat and the pit), the lullaby "Raisins and Almonds" was also incorporated - even though he was not actually related to the story, he said. On human beings.

Indeed, the song gained immense popularity.



In the original song, the Jewish mother puts her son to sleep in a story about the goat that goes to the fair to buy raisins and almonds.

Like him, the mother wishes the child that he too would become a wealthy merchant, and asks him to sleep in the meantime.

"Yeshiva of Slobodka" presents a different kind of spectacle: instead of the Temple - the yeshiva in the ghetto;

In place of the mother, Bat Zion - an old and dying sun;

Instead of a lullaby - a will;

And instead of a future that is full of wealth - hope for the day of liberation, when it will finally be possible to honor the murdered victims.

More on Walla!

It is one of the most beautiful and chilling Holocaust songs ever written.

So why does no one know him?

To the full article

Raisins with almonds performed by Chava Alberstein

"But another day will come, and the sun

will rise

then


and set Jews free from the ghetto of darkness

.



During the three years of the ghetto's existence, atrocities followed atrocities.

From the end of 1943, the Kaunas ghetto gradually moved to the direct management of the SS, and was declared a concentration camp.

With the end of the war on the horizon, the Nazis gathered Jews from the ghetto, as well as prisoners of war, who were required to burn the bodies of those killed in the Ninth Fort, in order to destroy the evidence of the massacre there.

The ghetto was also gradually liquidated, and in July 1944 about 8,000 of its remaining inhabitants were deported from it to camps in Germany.

Finally, the Germans set it on fire.

This brought to an end about 550 years of Jewish community in the city.

The word "revenge" is written in blood on a door, Kaunas (Kovno) Ghetto, Lithuania, 1944 (Photo: Official website, The Oster Visual Documentation Center, We - The Jewish People's Museum, Zvi Kadoshin Collection)

In the ruins of the ghetto were found after the war notebooks of a boy named Ilya Gerber, who was also deported to Dachau when the ghetto was liquidated and murdered on a death march on April 28, 1945. Gerber, the son of a musician, collected the songs he heard in the ghetto.

The notebook was passed on to Shmarka Kaczerginski, a poet and partisan from Vilnius (also known as the author of the song "Ponar"), who began collecting songs created during the Holocaust together with Abba Kovner and Avraham Sutzkober.

In the monumental collection that Kaczerginski composed a few years later from the poems he collected, this poem is also found.



And who was Axelrod himself?

Almost nothing was written about him.

The collection "From the Straits: Songs from the Ghettos from the Camps and Rebellion Songs", edited by Ernest Horowitz, Gil Aldama and Shlomo Ibn Shushan, states that Axelrod perished in the burning ghetto in July 1944, and this story is repeated in several sources in short and few words.

But this is not the case at all: he was caught with the liquidation of the ghetto and deported to Dachau or one of his satellite camps, and after his release he was in rehabilitation at the Bavarian monastery of St.

Otiline - where patients who survived the concentration camp were housed.

There he also met his second wife, a Holocaust survivor from Ponivez, who fled east during the war with her parents.

Destruction and destruction in the Kaunas (Kovno) ghetto at the end of the war, Lithuania, 1945 (Photo: Official website, The Oster Visual Documentation Center, We - The Jewish People's Museum, Zvi Kadoshin Collection)

"He was probably very physically strong, and that helped him survive in Dachau," she told Walla!

Culture of his daughter, educator Tzipi Meshulam.

She added that a story had reached her, according to which in the last days before the liberation of the camp, her father had fallen exhausted.

"Everyone was sure he was no longer alive, they covered him and said a few words about him and the Germans did not let him linger."

But he survived: "A flood came down and he crawled towards the only place where there was light and knocked on the window. That night someone died - and he got his number."

After two or three days he was released.



Axelrod's first wife and daughter perished.

After the war he remarried, and immigrated to Israel in 1949.

He had two more children, Tzipi and Baruch, after his father.

In Israel he apparently did not write.

According to his daughter, at some point after the war he confronted a Jew who was suspected of collaborating with the Nazis, and was severely injured in the eye - so he hardly saw in his last years.

Twenty years after his aliyah, on May 20, 1969, Avraham Axelrod passed away at the age of 66.



A few years ago, his two children took his notebook containing 35 poems he had written throughout the war, and published it privately under the title "The Light in the Dark." Rachel Shlita.

"His songs really document wherever he has been," says Lithuania to Walla!

Culture and explains that the songs are full of local Cuban slang.

"I really used the experts in Kaunas to understand all the lyrics, and a lot of the songs are close to the events he experiences in the ghetto."

Courtesy of the family, the song "Slobodka's Yeshiva" is published here in the author's handwriting.

The song "In the yeshiva of Slobodka" in the handwriting of Axelrod, from his songbook (Photo: courtesy of the family)

Thus, through the translations, Axelrod's children rediscovered the story of their father, who refused to share with them his wartime memories.

"I grew up with a father who did not speak," says his daughter Tzipi.

"Not so much we could really know, and we gleaned information from my mother every time."

On the time that has passed since her father's death to the decision to publish his songs, she explains that for them the process has matured in time.



In the meantime, she is actually fulfilling the will of her father, Avraham Axelrod, the one who appeared in the same song about Slobodka's yeshiva: shares his story through "memory in the living room" events, tells about it to students, and so does her neighbors.

"I was busy keeping his will. Every year I found a different school. Last year, in Corona, I brought every tenant in the building next door the book with a request to read some poem, with a summary of his life. That's what I did all my life."

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