Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Ellis Island - 1914 Yiddish theater song by Solomon Smulewitz

This is a dull melody but the lyrics are vivid.

I found the tune so dull and the accompaniment so boiler-plate I just sang it a capella this morning.

Words and translation after the jump.


Der oremer yid, nebekh, loyft vi fun fayer
Dershlogn un shreklekh, farvirt
Er zukht vu eyn ort kenen otemen frayer
Zayn heym iz tsebrokhn, ruinirt.
Avekgeroybt hot men zayn gantses farmegn.
Gelozn in elnt un noyt.
A naye heym zukht er zayn kop vu tsu leygn
un vu tsu fardinen af broyt.

Er zukht tsu bashitsn zayn oremes lebn
Un trern fargist er a taykh.
Er veyst in Amerika zaynen gegebn
Di rekhte far alemen glaykh.
Mit tsores dershlogt er zikh gor on a breg,
Do kumt Ellis Island un git im a freg:
"Tsi kenstu a shprakh? Tsi hostu a fakh?
Tsi brengst du nit gelt mit a sakh?"
Der yid entfert "Neyn," dan heyst men im geyn...

Oy! Ellis Island, du grenetz fun frayland
Vi groys un vi shreklekh du bist.
Azelkhe retsikhes dos kenen nor rukhes
Du plogst di geklogte umzist.
Mit tsores gekumen, dem yam koym dershvimen
Di getin der frayhayt derzen.
Do kumt Ellis Island, der grenets fun frayhayt,
Zogt "Halt! Du kenst vayter nit geyn!"

Vi shvere farbrekher mit ayzerne grates
Farshlosn farsamt un bavakht
Fartsveyfelte shteyen dort mames un tates
Okh finster azoy vi di nakht.
Zay hobn do eygene zin oder tekhter
Vos viln zey nemen tsu zikh
un fregt a baamtn iz grob mit gelekhter zayn entfer oh nit azoy grob

Men hot zey farhaltn darf zey farhern men shikt zey tsurik nokh filaykht
do veynen di kinder mit bitere trern zey makhn den bodn dort faykht (moist)
Nokh Washington shraybt men, men falt far dem her
"Lozt fray mir mayn tate, nu, git im a her,
nor ot iz di sakh men ret nit keyn zakh
Er is far der land leyder, shvakh
un zogt men shoyn neyn, dan heyst men im geyn.

The impoverished Jew, poor thing, runs as from fire: beaten, terrified, bewildered.
He looks for a place to breathe free - his home is broken, ruined.
Everything he owned has been stolen, leaving him in desolation and hardship.
He seeks a new home where he can lay his head and earn his bread.

He wants protection for his poor life. His tears pour like a river.
He knows in America everyone is given equal rights.
With misery and great effort he makes his way to the border.
Here's Ellis Island, it asks him:
Do you know the language? Do you have a livelihood?
Do you have a lot of money?
The Jew answers "no," then he's told to leave.

Oh, Ellis Island, frontier of freedom,
How great and terrible you are.
Only demons know such fury.
You plague the lamenting ones for no reason.
Come in misery, barely making it across the ocean,
Glimpsing the goddess of freedom...
Here comes Ellis Island, frontier of freedom,
It says: "Stop! You can't go any farther!"

Like a hardened criminal, locked up and guarded behind iron bars, poisoned.
Mothers and fathers stand there, desperate, feeling as dark as the night.
They have their own sons or daughters who want to take them in
And ask an official, he's rude, laughing, his answer is coarse.
They've been arrested, they need to be interrogated, maybe they'll be sent back
The children are weeping bitter tears
They write to Washington, please, listen,
But nobody says anything
"He's a wretch, too weak for this country."

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