Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Der yidisher voluntir - that famous Jewish hero of the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Another weird gem from Lider Magazin, Issue 4, probably 1899 (the cover page with the date is missing).

Der yidisher voluntir was written by Louis Kopelman especially for Boris Thomashefsky. It's a tear-jerker set in Cuba during the Spanish-American war, with a Jew who charges into battle right after his left hand has been torn off, to "save his fatherland." I'm glad I don't have to defend or justify any of this.

We're instructed it's to be sung to the tune of Break The News To Mother, published in 1897 by Charles K. Harris. Wikipedia notes: "Originally Harris wrote the song about a fireman. After the USS Maine explosion in Havana Harbor in 1898, Harris rewrote it with a soldier in place of a fireman."

The song was popular during the American invasion of Havana, and it was re-issued and popular once more during World War I.

It's an interminable song but I endured singing the whole thing so you too could shake your head at its peculiarity. As is typical of the time, the lyrics are a very Germanic Yiddish. Thanks to my Mappamundi bandmates, Ken Bloom on guitar and Jim Baird on bass.


Translation of the Yiddish and lyrics in transliteration after the jump.



Der yidisher voluntir

Tsu kempfn far Kuba's frayhayt mit dem shverd in hand
Di voluntirn zet nor vi freylekh geyen zey
A yeder vil nor makhn ere zayn libes foterland
un oykh a yid vor dort tsvishn zey

Gekempft hot er dort vitend mutik vi a held
Di ershte shlakht gevunen gor hot er
Der yid er iz geven der bester af dem shlakhtfeld
Gemakht hot men im far an ofitser

Shnel shikt a telegrame tsu mayn alter mame
Shraybt ir az ir liber zun er zigt af dem shlakhtfeld
Un der unterdrikte veln zayn baglikte
Un der yid hot zayns geton, gekempft vi eyn held

Di tsveyte shlakht di vor shoyn shlimer, den ale vorn mid /bad
Geshlogn fun di Shpanier fartribn vorn mir
Do iz glaykh tsu zey gekumen der yunger braver yid
Un hot geshrien: kinder, kumt mit mir!

Dem faynd hot er batrign, geretet dos foterland
Bazigt dem faynd hot er oykh dizes mol
Plutsim treft im a kanone un rayst im op zayn hand
Men nemt im vek gants shvakh in hospital

Shnel shikt a telegrame tsu mayn alter mame
Shraybt ir az ir liber zun iz farvundet af dem shlakhtfeld
Abi di unterdrikte veln zayn baglikte
Un der yid hot zayns geton, gekempft dort vi a held.

In hospital iz er gelegn, gelitn gor frukhtbar
Den aropgeshnitn hot men im dort zayn linke hand
Dokh derhert er vi der kepten shrayt: mir zaynen in gefar!
Kinder, retet ayer foterland!

In slakht iz er gelofn, fargesn on zayn shmerts,
Zayn foterland tsu retn loyft er mit lust
Plutsim filt er vi es brent im, okh! Shreklekh iz zayn herts
Getrofn hot a koyl im glaykh in brust.

Shnel shikt a telegrame tsu mayn alter mame
Shraybt ir az ir liber zun er ligt af dem shlakhtfeld
Abi di unterdrikte veln zayn baglikte
Un der yid hot zayns geton, geshtorbn vi eyn held.

The Jewish Volunteer

Look how happily the volunteers go
to struggle for Cuba's freedom with sword in hand.
Each just wants to make his dear fatherland proud.
And there is also, among them, a Jew.

He faces battle there, brave as a hero.
He won the first battle completely.
The Jew was the best on the battlefield.
They made him an officer.

"Quickly send a telegram to my old mother.
Write that her dear son triumphed on the battlefield.
And the undersigned will be made happy."
And following his nature, the Jew fought like a hero.

The second battle was worse, everyone was tired.
Beaten by the Spanish, we were driven off.
Here came the brave young Jew straight away,
shouting: "Children, come with me!"

He deceived the enemy and saved the fatherland.
He beat the enemy this time, too.
Suddenly a cannonball met him and tore up his hand.
He was taken, very weak, to the hospital.

"Quickly send a telegram to my old mother.
Write that her dear son was wounded on the battlefield.
And if you do, the undersigned will be made happy."
And the Jew did as he ought, he fought like a hero.

He lay in the hospital, grievously wounded.
They cut off his left hand.
Now he hears the captain cry: "We are in danger!
Children, save your fatherland!"

He ran into battle, forgetting his pain,
He ran with gusto to save his fatherland.
Suddenly he feels something is burning him, oh! His heart feels terrible.
A bullet found its way straight to his breast.

Quickly send a telegram to my old mother.
Write that her dear son lies on the battlefield.
And if you do, the undersigned will be made happy,
And the Jew did as he ought, he died like a hero.






For sheet music and/or performances contact me: jane@mappamundi.com

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