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Discovering Lost Jewish Songs from World War II

YIDDISHKEIT

University of Toronto professor of Yiddish Anna Shternshis was visiting Kiev during the early 2000s when she made an extraordinary discovery.

Decades before, a group of Soviet scholars, led by ethnomusicologist Moisei Beregovsky, had been in the process of preserving songs written in World War II by Red Army soldiers, refugees, victims and survivors of Ukrainian ghettos. Then during Stalin’s anti-Jewish purge of the 1950s, these researchers were arrested and their work confiscated. They all died assuming it had been destroyed.

In Kiev, Shternshis learned otherwise. The deteriorating, fragile documents she saw were mostly hand-written—and contained some of the important Soviet Yiddish songs of World War II.

One song had been written by a 10-year-old orphan who lost his family in the ghetto in Tulchin. Other pieces encourage the fight against fascism. All have been reconstructed in an act of “musical archaeology” and are now recorded on a new CD, Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II. The album is a collaboration between artist Psoy Korolenko, Shternshis, and producer Dan Rosenberg who brought together an ensemble of soloists including vocalist Sophie Milman and violinist Sergei Eredenko. The CD also includes a booklet that features pictures of the original documents found by Shternshis.

“Yiddish Glory gives voice to Jewish children, women, [and] refugees whose lives were shattered by horrific violence of World War II,” said Shternshis. “The songs come to us from people whose perspectives are rarely heard in reconstructing history, none of them professional poets or musicians, but all at the center of the most important historical event of the 20th century, and making sense of it through music. I cannot be more excited and humbled by this project that brings their voices back to life.”