Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

About the mysterious Max Zavodnick 1867-1920

Max Zavodnik has four songs (at least) in the American Yiddish Penny Songs collection: Der Amerikaner seder, Dos lid fun Yarmulovski, Kaiser Wilhelms mapole, and Di korbones fun Essex Street Fire. I also see him online as lyricist of Nikoleike ligt in kimpet (1914) and five songs available at the Library of Congress website: Die lebedige yesomim, A mame iz der bester fraynd, Di farlozene milkhome kale, Di milkhome (The war of the world), and Tsar Nikolay's mapole.

I just found this amazing tribute and quote it below in its entirety. Kurenets is in the Vileika uyezd, Vilna gubernia

MATIA SON OF PESACH ZAVODNICK
By Maris Cohen, New Haven.

Kurenitz (Vileyka district) was a tiny shtetl, nevertheless, it was greatly diverse. Learned men, merchants, store owners, vagabonds, tradesmen and handymen, wealthy and poor, I don't need to tell you that for every wealthy man there were dozens of poor.

There were numerous personalities that deserve to be mentioned here, however I will concentrate only on one person, Matia Pesach's. Matia did have a last name but we only found out about his last name in the U.S. In the U.S. they called him Max Zavodnick.

In the old shtetl, we were not used to last names. It was unnecessary. There, we called each other by the name of the father, mother, grandfather, or grandmother, or their vocation or craft. We knew each other as Laibe Mashe's, Yehuda Zushe's, Yechiel Kalman the doctor, Michael the forester, Ara the fisherman, Penia the metal merchant, Shimon the oilman. Asher the haberdasher, Mordecai the taylor, Eliyahu the smith, Yarochmiel the shoe repairman. There were two other Yarochmeils that were also in shoe repair, so we would call them little and big Yarochmiels. In our town, no one knew last names nevertheless, the generation ties never ended and no one was ever lost.

Matia son of Pesa was a very unique person. A simple guy who could hardly read and write, on the other hand he could play various instruments. Violin, flute, clarinet. Matia would write songs and sing them during celebrations. In his nature, he was a comedian and his rhymes were always very original and charming. How he was given this "gift of music" no one could answer. No one else in his family was a poet or musician.

Matia in his essence always was attracted to some far away place. His eyes had the statement of restlessness and a deep desire of wondering. He was a tall man, skinny and dark. His appearance was something of a gypsy.

In our town, there was little respect for such people. The people of our town didn't understand or appreciate him, until one day when he did something that changed everyone's opinion. In the year 1890 all of a sudden there was inflation in prices and in the whole region the money lost its value. All the products became extremely expensive and people were starving. We found out that the merchants of the farm products took all the products and took them to a nearby town, Smorgon, to sell them while we were asked to starve.

One day when there were ten carriages full of products on Smargon's street ready to be taken out of town. The drivers were sitting in the inn of Yeuda Zusha's drinking alcohol. Matia stealthily went to the carriages and cut the sacks and let all the produce fall to the ground for the townspeople to use. In this way he revenged the townspeople's being left to starvation, and none of the produce left the town.

Everyone was very worried and Matia hid somewhere. However, he couldn't hide for too long. When he came out all the merchants beat him mercilessly. Nevertheless, everyone in town was extremely thankful. We realize that Matia of all people fought the fight for the town. Everyone respected him for that.

Here in America, Matia had many professions. For some time, he was a policeman travelling on bicycles around New York making sure the Kosher butchers and restaurants were truly Kosher.

After a while he became a street musician. He would compose songs and would wander the streets of New York singing. Many of his songs became later songs that other singers sang in entertainment halls. The subject of his songs were usually tragic events. Matia would compose a song for every tragedy that occurred. In 1906 when the earthquake in San Francisco destroyed a large part of the town, Matia dedicated a song to the event. When General Sarkhoum was burned in the port of New York (a cruise ship with hundreds of kids aboard,) Matia arranged a song for the event. Also, when Russia lost the war to Japan, there was an original song for it.

What was the root of the choice of Matia to sing about miseries and tragedies? Maybe, his life was very tragic in that he never reached the lofty desires that his soul yearned for. Whatever reason, his songs were always sad as his appearance was.


Matia died in 1925 in New York City. He was 52. He left behind a son, who was an engineer and a daughter who lived in Philadelphia. When the daughter was young, she was among the most beautiful girls of Jewish New York.

Let's remember Matia son of Pesa, a native of Kurenitz, with this memorial for our Shtetl.


With that information, I found this gravestone, of Max Zavodnik son of Pesach died May 16, 1920 at the age of 53 (b. 1867). A Max Zovodnick of this age is in the 1905 New York census (on Ludlow Street in Manhattan) as a laborer with wife Fannie, daughter Sophie, sons Pesach and Louis.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow! you do it! thank you VERY much!!!

ps
sure you already know, but in any case Zavodnik's known songs

1910 - Di seyder nakht (Max Zavodnik - Hyman Altman)
1914 - Reb Khayim shkrob (Max Zavodnik - Arnold Perlmutter & Herman Wohl)
1914 - Der leybedigeh yosem'l (Max Zavodnik - Henry Russotto)
1914 - A maeh iz der bester fraynd (Max Zavodnik - Henry Russotto)
1914 - Di milkhomeh (Max Zavodnik - Henry Russotto)
1917 - Nikolays mapoleh (Max Zavodnik - Max Cohan)
1918 - Aynzameh (Max Zavodnik - Henry Russotto)

May 31, 2016 at 2:40 PM  

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