Men darf tsi kemfn

The song’s refrain is a workers' call to arms, but it has lost this connotation in the Łódź ghetto, and become instead a general call for survival, and a demonstration against the humiliating ghetto authorities.

The verse is a political satire on the rumour that the ghetto is to receive a new ruler known for his good qualities, one who may ask the Germans to open it up.  Moses Merin, a member of the central committee of the Elders of the Jews in East-Upper Silesia in Sosnowiec, visited Łódź in the autumn of 1940.  Because he had a good reputation, there was hope that he might be the one to help the Łódź inhabitants.  But, in fact, he resembled Rumkowski in his abuse of power.

Yaakov Rotenberg, who sings the song in this recording, commented: 'The most important song in the ghetto was a song of revolt, 'Kemfn' (Struggle), which means to fight, to revolt.'  The melody comes from an earlier song by Dovid Beyglman, 'Ganovim Lid' (Thieves' song), with some alterations to fit the text.

Men darf tsi kemfn
Men darf tsi kemfn,
Shtrak tsi kemfn
Oy, az der arbeter zol nisht laydn noyt!
Men tur nisht shvaygn
Nor hank shaybn
Oy, vet er ersht gringer
Krign a shtikl broyt.
Merin der nayer keyser
Er iz a yid a heyser
Er shtamt fin klaynem shtetl
Er hot amul gehat a berdl
Er zugt indz tsi tsi geybn,
Men zol es nor darleybn,
Poyln bay dem yeke
Men zol efenen di geto/
Refrain: Men darf tsi …

Lyrics: Yankele Hershkowitz

We’ve got to fight;
Fight hard
So that working people won’t suffer.
We must not be silent,
But rather break windows.
Only then
Will they get a piece of bread.
Merin, the new emperor,
He is a warm Jew,
He comes from a small shtetl,
He used to have a beard.
He promised us
That we should live to see the day
When the Germans
Open up the ghetto.
We’ve got to fight…