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Video Archives: Yosl Kogan

Yosl Kogan

Yosl Kogan

born in Bershad , 1927


Yosl Kogan was born in 1927 in Bershad. His father, a soap-maker, died during the 1933 famine. He was brought up by his mother, a candy-maker. He spent much of the war in the Bershad ghetto, where he wrote songs about his experiences. He served in the Red Army and participated in the liberation of Berlin. After his military service, he worked at a liquor factory in Bershad, draining molasses. He moved to Tulchyn in 1960 and worked in a procurement office.

Current Video: Tsezeyt un tseshpreyt (Scattered and dispersed)

Another one of Yosl Kogan's songs from the Bershad ghetto, "What Have You Given Us, Hitler," describes in verse the horrors he witnessed, as he watched refugees from Romania forge across the river with their belongings on their backs. In "What Have You Given Us, Hitler?"

Kogan accuses Hitler of placing thieves on the throne. The poem again borrows phrases, rhymes, and motifs from other sources: the phrase "scattered and dispersed," for instance, is often used as a general reference to the state of Diaspora Jews, but was employed specifically in songs of Transnistrian ghettos to refer to the Jewish deportees from Bessarabia.

The Yiddish writer Szmerke Kaczerginski, for instance, published a song that parallels the variant sung by Kogan, which Kaczerginski obtained from a source who was in the Sharhorod ghetto. Kogan ends his song with a verse of hope, drawing from the same themes he employed in "Aheym." Once again, the Jews will wait for a time when all the Jews in the world will be free, they will fly a flag emblazoned with the star of David, and will have respect for the Jewish Spirit. In Kogan's variant the song drifts into recitative mode, as he parenthetically comments on the suffering he witnessed.

Vos hostu Gitler- merder-mir azoy gegibn
Akhuts a numerl af geln karton,
A hoykhn zabor arum dem shtetl?
Un di gazlonim hostu geshtelt afn tron.

Tsezeyt un tseshpreyt,
Vu ir zeyt, vu ir geyt.
Yidelekh fun yener zayt brik
Mit di pekelekh in di hent,
Kleyne kinder af di hent.
Me traybt undz, me shlogt undz,
Nit farvos.

Itstert vil ikh, az ir zolt zen dos.
Dos harts heybt on tsu flakern,
Zen tsukukndik af di kinder,
Vi-zoy zey mutshen zikh.

Tsukukndik af zey
Rayst zikh op dos harts.
Tsukukndik af di kinder un af di mentshn.

Yidelekh fun yener zayt brik,
Farshvoln, hungerik in kelt
Aroysgetribn hot men undz fun yener zayt,
Fun undzer shtub.

Brider, shvester, fraynt.
Zey hobn dertseylt di yidn, azoy.

A sakh undzere brider un fraynt
Zenen geblibn af di felder, af di felder.
S'iz take emes, take azoy.

Un me shlogt undz un me traybt undz un me pakt.
Me zogt azoy: mir hofn, mit gots hilf
Az s'vet kumen di mazldike sho
Ven ale yidn fun der gorer velt veln besholem zayn.
Mit gots hilf zayn bafrayt,
Un demlt ver s'vet blaybn lebn
Veln mir ale undzere zingen a naye lid.
Af der fon--dem mogn-Dovid.
Ale yidn fun der gorer velt veln hobn koved.
Mid dem nomen pintele yid.

What have you given me, Hitler--murderer,
Aside from a number on a yellow badge,
A high fence around the shtetl?
And you put the thieves on the throne.

Scattered and dispersed,
Wherever you look, wherever you go,
Jews from the other side of the bridge
With packs in their arms
And little children in their arms
They goad us, they beat us
For nothing!

Now I want you to see this:
The heart begins to flutter
Looking at the children
How they torture them,

Looking at them,
It tears your heart,
Looking at the children and at the men.

Jews from the other side of the bridge,
Swollen, hungry, and cold,
They forced us from the other side, from our home.

Brothers, sisters, friends.
That's how the Jews explained it.

Many of our brothers and friends
Were left in the fields, in the fields.
It's completely true, just like that.

And they beat us, and goad us, and grab us
They say "we hope, with God's help, a better hour will come,
When all the Jews in the entire world will be at peace.
With God's help, they will be free.
And then, those who remain alive,
Will sing a new song, all of us together."
On the flag--the star of David!
All the Jews from the entire world will have respect
For the name, "the Jewish Spirit."

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)