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Video Archives: Yosl Kogan

Yosl Kogan

Yosl Kogan

born in Bershad , 1927

Videos

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: Inside the Ghetto

Yosl Kogan sung us several songs he had written about the Bershad ghetto. One of these is a sardonic satire of the well-known Soviet song, "Zhankoye," an upbeat propaganda piece about Jews building farms and new lives for themselves in the collective farms of Crimea. The original song begins with the famous lines: "As you travel to Sevastopol / Not too far from Simferopol /There's a railroad station" and continues to celebrate how former shtetl Jews with typical shtetl names--Abrasha, Leye, Beyle--are now working on collective farms as productive Soviet workers, as reapers, threshers, and tractor drivers.

Kogan took the basic melody of "Zhankoye," but sung it at a slower, more somber pace, and altered the lyrics to deride the optimistic life promised by the original song. Rather than the open fields of the Crimean countryside, Kogan situated his song in the overcrowded Bershad ghetto, which he calls a camp.

Az me fort keyn Balonvike
Iz nit vayt fun Obodivke--Bershad
Dortn iz a lagerl faran.
Yid lign op meslesn
Nit getrunken, nit gegesn
Gitler, merder, zogt azoy darf es zayn.

Oy-vey, tsores, tsores
Toygn yidn af kapores
Hoft men afn mazldikn tog.


In a vinkl khropet Dvoyre
Reb Gedalye halt di toyre
Un bet got er zol shoyn tun dem nes.

Oy-vey, tsores, tsores
Toygn yidn af kapores
Hoft men afn mazldikn tog.

Avrom-Iche fort af dem vogn
Es iz a kharpe im tsu zogn
Er makht shoyn skhakl shoyn dem zektsn tur.
Di obshchine hot im geheysn
Im farnemen ale meysim
Groyen im far veytik azh di hor.

Oy-vey, tsores, tsores
Toygn yidn af kapores
Hoft men afn mazldikn tog.

Inem shtetl, Bershad, der besoylem
Prinimayet yenem oylem
Griber shtaygn poshet nit farshit.
Es lign yidn un zey foyln
Azh dos harts heybt on tsu groyen
Akh farvos darf opkumen der yid.

Oy-vey, tsores, tsores
Toygn yidn af kapores
Hoft men afn mazldikn tog.

As you travel to Balonivke
Not too far from Obadivke, Bershad
There you will find a little camp.
Jews lie dying,
Not eating, not drinking.
Hitler--murderer--says it must be so.

Oy, vey, sorrow, sorrow
Jews are left for rubble
Hoping for a more fortunate day.


In a corner Dvoyre snores,
Reb Gedalya holds the Torah,
And pleads to God for a miracle.

Oy, vey, sorrow, sorrow
Jews are left for rubble
Hoping for a more fortunate day.

Avrom-Itshe leads the wagon
It is a disgrace to speak to him,
He is already doing his sixth round.
The community appointed him
To take all the bodies.
His hair is gray from grief.



Oy vey, sorrow, sorrow
Jews are left for rubble
Hoping for a more fortunate day.

In a shtetl--Bershad--the cemetery
Is receiving the entire community.
Graves pile up not yet covered.
Jews are lying and they rot.
The heart shudders.
Why does the Jews have to suffer.

Oy vey, sorrow, sorrow
Jews are left for rubble
Hoping for a more fortunate day.

Instead of the railroad station found at the end of the road in the original song, Kogan finds a concentration camp. Instead of Abrasha, whose tractor races through the field, Kogan inserts Avrom-Itshe, who hauls a wagon full of corpses. Leye the reaper is replaced with Dvoyre who snores, and Beyle the thresher becomes Reb Gedalya, who holds the Torah. Each of the characters in Kogan's song is based on a real individual he knew from the ghetto: Avrom-Itshe Lekhetser, he told us, "was given a wagon with a horse. He would collect the corpses six times a day--no less. They were falling like flies." Gedalya, he continued, "was one of our shoykhets," and Dvoyre was his wife. When the Germans came through the town on their retreat in 1944, Kogan explained, they executed Gedalya on charges that he had been assisting the partisans in the forests outside the town. Kogan honored the murdered Gedalya as the one who "holds the Torah and pleads to God for a miracle."

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