Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Di brenende ekskoyrshun shif General Slocum: 1904 Yiddish disaster song by Max Zavodnik


Written by Max Zavodnik
To sing with the melody fr
The Burning Excursion Ship "General Slocum"om
"Always In The Way"



This was not an easy song to find and maybe that's because it's not so great. The original text is about a kid whose mother died and who now has a rotten stepmother.

That's not as great a tragedy as the 1904 Burning of the General Slocum. I'd never heard of it, had you? According to Wikipedia, about 1,021 of the 1,342 people on board the pleasure steamboat died, making the General Slocum disaster "the New York area's worst disaster in terms of loss of life until the September 11, 2001 attacks." Some speculate that anti-German sentiment (all the people on board were from the little Germany neighborhood) caused the deaths to be downplayed.

Max Zavodnik wrote a number of songs featured on this blog and one on my other blog, Polish Jewish Cabaret - he was drawn to tragedy.

Here's my living room recording from yesterday - I'm in quarantine with six members of my family (delight! but bedlam) and I squeezed this in between periods of uproar.


For the three verses I sang, transliteration from the Yiddish and translation after the jump. If you want the whole song (it's long) write to me.



Di brenende exkoyrshun shif General Slocum

Af a sheynem zumer tog kumt an umgrerikhtn brokh
Getantst un gezungen vayl di muzik shpiln dokh
Plutsling vert ales gestopt! Der keptin kumt aroys.
"Kinder, mir zaynen in gefar, di flamen zaynen groys!"

"Oy, retet!" shrayen zey mit a groys geshrey.
Afn vaser zeyer tif brent a groyse ekskoyrshen shif.
"Oy, retet!" shrayen zey, "vind iz undz un vey!"
Un brekhn di hent - "Mir vern farbrent!
Oy retet!" shrayen zey.

A bisl frishe luft tsu khapn hot zikh zey geglust.
Un vos zey vet geshen hobn zey nit gevust.
Freylekh zaynen zey gegangen bagegenen dem toyt.
Punkt vi likht hobn zey gebrent lebedikerheyt.

Fayer, vaser un di erd hobn partnership gemakht.
Toyzend yunge lebns fun der velt zey umgebrakht.
Mames mit zeyere beybelekh hot der toyt tsu zikh farnart.
Tsvishn fayer un vaser zey tsuzamen geshpart.

The burning excursion ship General Slocum

On a beautiful summer day came an unexpected catastrophe
They were dancing and singing while the music played.
Suddenly everything stopped! The captain came out.
"Children, we're in danger, the flames are high!"

"Oh, save us!" they shout with a great outcry.
On very deep water a big excursion ship is burning.
"Oy, save us!" they shout, "Woe is us!"
And wringing their hands - "We're burning!
Oy, save us!" they shout.

They just wanted to breathe a bit of fresh air.
They didn't know what would become of them.
They went, happy, to meet death.
Just like lights they burned alive.

Fire, water and the earth made a partnership,
They took a thousand young lives from the world.
Death enticed to itself mothers with their babies,
They were trapped between fire and water.


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

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