Yiddish classic of pogrom– ‘Our shtetl is burning’– is adapted to Palestinian experience

Israel/Palestine
on 18 Comments

Sung in Yiddish, Hebrew and Arabic. Yonatan Shapira is the lead singer. Female vocalist unidentified. According to Eitan Altman’s Youtube channel:

Lyrics and music written by Mordecai Gebirtig, born in 1877 in Krakow, Poland, was a Yiddish folk poet and songwriter. He wrote “Undzer shtetl brent!” in 1936, following a pogrom in the Polish town of Przytyk

English Language Lyrics:

It’s burning, brothers! It’s burning!
Oh, our poor village, brothers, burns!
Evil winds, full of anger,
Rage and ravage, smash and shatter;
Stronger now that wild flames grow —
All around now burns!
And you stand there looking on
With futile, folded arms
And you stand there looking on —
While our village burns!

It’s burning, brothers! It’s burning!
Oh, our poor village, brothers, burns!
Soon the rabid tongues of fire
Will consume each house entire,
As the wild wind blows and howls —
The whole town’s up in flames!
And you stand there looking on
With futile, folded arms,
And you stand there looking on —
While our village burns!

It’s burning, brothers! Our town is burning!
Oh, God forbid the moment should arrive,
That our town, with us, together,
Should go up in ash and fire,
Leaving when the slaughter’s ended
Charred and empty walls!
And you stand there looking on
With futile, folded arms,
And you stand there looking on —
While our village burns!

It’s burning, brothers! Our town is burning!
And our salvation hands on you alone.
If our town is dear to you,
Grab the buckets, douse the fire!
Show that you know how!
Don’t stand there, brothers, looking on
With futile, folded arms,
Don’t stand there, brothers, douse the fire! —
Our poor village burns!

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

Other posts by .


Posted In:

18 Responses

  1. OlegR
    June 27, 2013, 11:29 am

    Should have went straight to Auschwitz and Shoa comparisons …
    Like he did in Warsaw ghetto.

  2. Elliot
    June 27, 2013, 12:31 pm

    Is this the activist, former IAF pilot, Yonatan Shapira?
    Oleg’s attack presages the ADL and all other keepers of the true Holocaust faith.

  3. Citizen
    June 27, 2013, 1:45 pm

    The living Chagall is the Arab Idol. He paints with his voice. And the institutionalised “soft” progroms go on each day, today. This will be the historical touch. As with all of contemporary history happening before our eyes, it will only be adequately recognized later, mostly too much later. It’s uncanny that that the Zionists cannot recognize what they are doing, because they are looking in their rear-view mirror, while they drive over the innocent Palestinians in front of them. Remember Richard Witty? He’s a great example. He’s still doing it, on his own seldom-visited blog. Seems he places the difference between himself and Phil Weiss, his boyhood buddy, on who they married. He married a Jew who’s family had personal experience with the Holocaust, while Phil married a non-Jew, her experiences stemming from an American upbringing and values.

    In both cases, Phil Weiss and Richare Witty have lived their whole lives in the lap of security and luxury, all provided by Dick and Jane Americans who know zero about Zionism. They do know about the Shoah, but zero about the Nakba. Phil Weiss is trying to bring them up to speed, Richard Witty tries to remind everybody that Jews need a safe haven from perennial jew-haters, including the USA’s potential: 98% Gentile population–even as the slow soft erasure of the Palestinian people continues, funded by Dick and Jane.

  4. Elliot
    June 27, 2013, 6:55 pm

    A couple of comments about this highly subversive piece:
    It sounds like a live – Israeli Jewish – performance with Yonatan encouraging the audience to sing. The whole piece has the feel of “shira tzibbur”, the once popular form of community singing. Nowadays, this style is a niche interest but is brought again on sad occasions such as Holocaust Memorial Days and Israel’s Memorial Day, which are still big deals in Israel. So this piece simultaneously nails both of the mainstream Jewish community’s sacred cows: the Holocaust and Israel.

    As far as I remember, this piece is usually performed in Israel in the Hebrew translation (from which Yonatan quotes the title, first line in a repeated refrain). So, it seems to me that for an Israeli to do “S’brent” in Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, is intself, a rejection of the Zionistification of all things Jewish.

    Finally, they throw in a new line as a refrain later in the recording. It’s in colloqial Israeli Hebrew with an Arabic echo (the translation?): “where is the faucet that shuts off the gas?” implying a domestic fire. “Gas” as in “cooking gas”.

    The ultimate subversion, of course, is translating sacred Israeli text into Arabic and getting Jews to sing it. That’s the whole point.

    Go, Yonatan!

    • Annie Robbins
      June 28, 2013, 3:38 am

      thanks elliot, much appreciated.

    • Inanna
      June 28, 2013, 6:26 am

      Thanks Eliot, yes, it’s well done. They have a native Arabic speaker who also says the same line in Arabic – ‘where is the faucet that shuts off the gas’ which I imagine would be even more nails-down-a-chalkboard to the chauvinists. Actually giving Palestinians a voice in this alongside Israeli Jews singing in Arabic! Definite head-explosion material.

Leave a Reply