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T Minus Three Days

Usually, I think I'm a pretty hardhearted sort of a person. But today, I was transcribing the Yiddish lyrics of several ghetto ballads into Le Thesis, and I almost broke down. If you listen to enough songs of terror and tragedy, your mind goes kind of numb after a while, and the songs stop meaning anything in particular. But there is one song that always, always makes me cry. It's called "Motele from the Warsaw Ghetto," by Reuven Lipshitz. The singable English translation from Jerry Silverman's The Undying Flame is:

In the narrow streets throughout the ghetto,
Where the sunlight's hardly ever found,
On his body clothes all torn and tattered,
The old tailor's son does run around.
Early ev'ry morning, like a shadow,
With his pallid lips that show his dread,
Steals right through the barbed wire of the ghetto,
Looking for a little piece of bread.

Chorus: Motele, a charming youngster,
Motele does pass the test.
Motele is very lucky,
For our Motl is some kid, one of the best!

Jews are fighting back against barbarians,
Streams of blood the ghetto streets do trace.
Helping build the barricades is Motl,
Deathly pale with rage is his small face.
In the fire bright blue eyes are shining,
Thirst and hunger drying out his tongue.
His brave heart with horror it is beating:
For his people's sake he shoots his gun.

Motele, a charming youngster,
Motele does pass the test.
Motele is very lucky,
For our Motl is some kid, one of the best!

Dzhike, Fave, Mile, Niske, Genshe,
Tongues of fire blazing all around.
Cannons roar and all of Warsaw trembles,
Save us! We hear the helpless cry resound.
In the smoke of bombs and cannonades then,
Motl's name did float above the fray.
Died a hero on the barricades then --
He didn't live till his Bar-Mitzvah day.

Motele, a charming youngster,
Motele does pass the test.
Motele is very lucky,
For our Motl is some kid, one of the best!

Twelve years old. At the oldest. Twelve. That's how old Motl was. I think that's what gets me, every single time I read it or listen to the recording.

I can't wait for Le Thesis to be done. T minus three days. Almost there.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
dot_o_choillmor
Mar. 12th, 2006 11:59 pm (UTC)
I think I’d have to stop thinking about them too closely if I were looking at that kind of thing every day. But it must be hard sometimes to discuss it in a scholarly manner when it’s real people’s stories.

You know, I (vaguely) remember touching on holocaust poetry when I was doing my degree. I definitely did an essay on Paul Celan and I remember some of the words to ‘Todesfuge’. And something about Theodor Adorno saying that writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. Sorry, that was a totally random comment but you just reminded me and it’s frustrating me that I can’t remember more of that class!
frenchpony
Mar. 13th, 2006 12:07 am (UTC)
For most of the year, I've worked on Le Thesis in very intense bursts of no more than two, two and a half hours. Because of the topic, I get very angry when writing it, and after a couple of hours, I get too angry to write any more. But until Wednesday, all the hours in all the days are for Le Thesis. I try to keep at least one other writing project, even if it's just a story, open so that I can take a break, but still. . . that song. . .

I do mention Adorno in Le Thesis, in the way that most ethnomusicologists do these days. Current procedure is to give his quote, primarily to prove that one is aware of it, and then proceed to explain why he a) is full of himself, b) completely misses the point, or c) just had no clue what he was talking about. Ethnomusicologists don't agree on much, but they do agree about Adorno.
elliska
Mar. 14th, 2006 11:49 am (UTC)
It's amazing how powerful poetry/song is. Somehow it seems more powerful to me than any graphically written prose description. I honestly don't see how you can work with such horribly sad topics and still remain as 'up' as you seem to be. Good for you, FP. I hope you rework and publish your thesis when you are finished.
frenchpony
Mar. 14th, 2006 01:22 pm (UTC)
The I.N.P.O.D. was under the delusion that I was considering a career as a Holocaust researcher -- explaining all about potential jobs at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C., and stuff like that. And several people have asked if I'm going to continue with Le Thesis for Le Dissertation. The answer to both is: Nope, sorry, have a nice day. I've got a nice topic all picked out for Le Dissertation that does not involve anyone dying horribly at the hands of genocidal criminals.

I honestly don't see how you can work with such horribly sad topics and still remain as 'up' as you seem to be.

Part of it is that I'm a little crazy. But you knew that.

I hope you rework and publish your thesis when you are finished.

I was just discussing this with a friend yesterday. I gave her a chapter-by-chapter summary of Le Thesis, and she pointed out one specific chapter that she thought I could turn into a good journal article. It happens to be my favorite chapter out of the bunch. I think maybe when I get to Chicago, I'll ask my new advisor to help me turn that chapter into an article.
saadiira
Mar. 14th, 2006 04:50 pm (UTC)
HUGS. That is hard.

I've been working on articles about 9-11 for publication. TEN of them. I have to stop sometimes. It's not easy. This wouldn't be easy, either. The poem just made me cry.

Anything where good people who shouldn't die makes me cry anymore. That can't be an easy subject at all. But I'm sure you will give it the attention it deserves, and the respect, and do it wonderfully, as you always do. Unless you can distance yourself, working with that day in and day out wouldn't be good for you at all...and who wants to be able to distance themselves that much?

LeDissertation I hope is on something that's really FUN!

BIG hugs again.

-Dira-
frenchpony
Mar. 14th, 2006 07:29 pm (UTC)
It certainly isn't an easy subject. But it's been immensely rewarding, especially to see so many people who I've talked to who are really eager to read Le Thesis and think it's a good, important thing to do.

Right now, I'm thinking I'll study women cantors for Le Dissertation.
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