'Never say you have reached the end of the road - WE ARE HERE!'
'Never say you have reached the end of the road - WE ARE HERE!'

The thundering and defiantly optimistic words of Hirsh Glik’s poem and anthem, Zog Nit Keynmol, the Partisan Song, give us hope!

Today, when we are confronted by those who want to destroy our culture, dispute our history or attack us as individuals, we should take the lead from the words of a poem written in the Vilna ghetto 75 years ago.

Hirsh Glik was a young 22 year old poet in 1943 when he wrote Zog Nit Keynmol in the Vilna ghetto. Glik wanted to inspire those in the ghetto to fight against the Nazis and to never lose hope. He quietly shared his poem with some friends, and soon music written in 1938 by two Jewish Russian brothers, Dmitri and Daniel Pokrass, was added. People began to sing it as a hymn, which then spread rapidly in the ghettos and camps and the surrounding forests. Everyone needed some form of spiritual support to survive and fight. The words alluded to a new heroic beginning for the Jewish people out of where their blood was being shed.

Zog Nit Keynmol was uttered by the many non-religious Jews who died in ghettos and in the camps just as Shema Yisrael was recited by religious Jews on the way to their deaths!

Hirsh Glik himself was murdered by the Nazis in Estonia in 1944.

Since the end of the Holocaust, the Partisan song has traditionally been sung in Yiddish by survivors at Yom Hashoah and other Holocaust commemorations around the world.

It was also adopted by non Jews as a protest song - the most famous being Paul Robeson, who sang it as an encore in Yiddish at his concert in Moscow in 1949, broadcast live across the entire USSR. From  Laibach, the Slovenian avant-garde band, the first Western group to perform in North Korea, and on to others, many have used Glik’s words to send a powerful message. Hirsh Glik is a Jewish hero!

In 1953 Yuri Suhl wrote on the 10th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising:

"Thus a Yiddish song, written by a young Jewish partisan in the Wilno ghetto and adopted by the partisans of this ghetto as their official battle hymn, has reached out to the far corners of the globe to become a battle song for peace for millions of people. For the message of this song, the warning it sounds, is as timely and vital for us today, when nazism is being restored in Western Germany became a battle song for peace for millions of people, as it was to the embattled Jews of the ghettos and the fighting Jews in the woods. In these days, when the architects of war pacts and the cold war use every device to sow gloom and despair in the hearts of the people, every expression of strength, courage and reaffirmation of faith in democracy is a rallying force. Hirsh Glik’s Zog nisht kaynmol is, in this sense, a weapon in the arsenal of democracy.”

In 1972 Leyzer Ran wrote:

"Glik wrote a poem dedicated to the Jewish catastrophe, resistance and perseverance. Now the poem belongs to the young post-war generations of proud Jews who accept the torch of Jewish continuity and survival into their hands.”

However, a problem was developing: Yiddish was no longer the Lingua Franca; Hebrew became the official language of Israel; the number of Holocaust survivors has been rapidly declining in the past few years; and In some cases, educators and NGOs tweak history to suit their vested interests. Here is a dangerous trend to revisionism.

In January 2017 I was asked if I could explain the meaning, significance and context of Zog Nit Keynmol to 1000 school students at King Day High Schools in South Africa. The students have been singing the anthem at their Yom Hashoah ceremonies in Yiddish, a language they do not understand. I have since found similar instances here in Australia, where students know the Yiddish words (but not the meaning!)

Much of the insight into life in the Vilna ghetto and of Hirsh Glik was provided firsthand by his friend, Phillip Maisel, 95, a survivor and volunteer at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne. Phillip was one of the first of a handful of people to hear the poem. I have been most fortunate to meet and interview Phillip.

Today, some community leaders appear not to want to offend others. “Just go softly, softly” they may say. They want to be more British than the British, more German than the Germans. Has this worked for the Jewish people and is it going to work now?

My Partisan Song Project has been promoted by World ORT and the Holocaust Education Trust UK. They have helped me encourage students around the world to understand and be inspired by Glik’s anthem, and to sing it.

(Note: The song is sung by different youth choirs in the second half of the video. Don't miss it!)

On my recent visit to Cape Town, I made a presentation at Muizenberg High School to an audience of 300 mostly black students. They identified strongly with Glik’s message - so much so that are learn to sing it in Xhosa!

Never say it is the end of the road in Capetown
Never say it is the end of the road in CapetownINN:ER

In August I will be giving a lecture on the Partisan Song Project at the first IAJGS International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies’ conference to be held in Warsaw, Poland, co-hosted by Polin, the magnificent museum which stands on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto!

So in the timeless words of Hirsh Glik, Never Say That We Have Reached The End Of The Road - WE ARE HERE!

Translation by unknown writer:

Unknown translator

Never say that there is only death for you,
Though leaden skies may be concealing days of blue.
Because the hour we have hungered for is near,
Beneath our tread the earth shall tremble: we are here!

From lands so green with palms to lands all white with snow.
We shall be coming with our anguish and our woe,
And where a spurt of our blood fell on the earth,
There our courage and our spirit have rebirth!

The early morning sun will brighten our day,
And yesterday with our foe will fade away,
But if the sun delays and in the east remains,
This song as motto generations must remain.

This song was written with our blood and not with lead,
It's not a little tune that birds sing overhead,
This song a people sang amid collapsing walls,
With pistols in hand[1] they heeded to the call.

So never say that there is only death for you,
Though leaden skies may be concealing days of blue.
Because the hour we have hungered for is near,
Beneath our tread the earth shall tremble: we are here

For more details on The Partisan Song Project, visit: http://elirab.me/zog-nit-keynmol/