The song was composed and sung by Yankele Herskowitz.  It was sung by Yaakov Rotenberg and recorded by Gila Flam in Israel in 1984.



Yiddish Transliteration

S’iz kaydankes kaytn
Lyrics Yankele Hershkowitz
 
Refrain:
S’iz kaydankes, kaytn
S’iz gite tsytn
Kayner tit zikh haynt nit shymen
Yede vil du haynt nor nemen
Abi tsi zany du zat.
 
Verse 1:
Nekhtn a levaye
Geveyzn a geshray
Mit agule ganuvim
Zikh gegebn a gite dray
Mentshn fil mit shrek
Dray maysim vern geyl!
S’iz  ka’ maysim gur geveyzn
Nor dray zek mit meyl.
 
Refrain: S’iz kaydankes
 
Verse 2:
S’ganvet Moyshe, s’ganvet Khayim
S’ganvet oyekh Nisl
Mit yadayim nemt man sh’rayim
Finem kuls shisl
Afile Pesl finem kesl
Nemt oykh arup
Yedn tug gist men vaser
Dus iz indzer zup
 
Refrain: S’iz kaydankes kaytn
 
Verse 3
[Rumkowski zogt]
‘Hit aykh fil genovim’
Ikh vel aykh arestirn!
Ikh vel di gantse geto
Oyf eygene hent firn
In oykh a briv koperativ
Ale zaynen blat
S’iz fil meysim fil taneysim
Ver iz haynt du zat”
Refrain: S’iz kaydankes kaytn

English Translation

It’s shackles and chains
Lyrics: Yankele Hershkowitz
 
Refrain:
It’s shackles and chains;
It’s really good times.
No one has any shame;
Everyone wants to grab whatever they can,
Just to get enough to eat
 
Verse 1:
Yesterday a funeral was passing by.
A cry arose –
A hearse full of thieves
Had flipped right over.
People were filled with fear.
Three corpses were turning yellow,
Yet they weren’t corpses at all
But three sacks of flour instead.
 
Refrain:
It’s shackles and chains...
 
Verse 2:
Moyshe steals, Khayim steals,
Nisl steals too.
People are grabbing the dregs with their hands
From the community pot.
Even Pesl
Is stealing right out of the kettle.
Every day they pour in more water –
That’s our soup.
 
Refrain:
It’s shackles and chains...
 
Verse 3:
[Rumkowski says:]
'Watch out, thieves –
I’ll arrest you!
I’ll keep the whole ghetto
Under my thumb!
And a warning to you too, cooperative
Everyone crooked!
There are plenty of bodies, plenty of lamenting.
Who here is satisfied!'

The song 'S’iz kaydankes kaytn' (It’s shackles and chains) was composed as a commentary on the thievery common in the Łódź ghetto, and on one event in particular: the theft of three sacks of flour in the guise of a funeral.  The song dates from the early days of the ghetto, probably during the autumn or winter of 1940.

The refrain describes 'good times' which came to the ghetto.  Once again the street singer uses the idea of 'good' to mean 'bad' – referring to the shortage of food and low moral standards.

The second verse supplies the details of the general phenomenon of stealing sh’rayim (food, or more accurately, leftovers.)  Theft, especially of food, was an everyday occurrence in the ghetto, and the Chronicle of the Łódź Ghetto reports many instances.

In the third verse, according to the singer, Rumkowski speaks to the Jews in a Lithuanian dialect, a more scholarly language.  Rumkowski warns his Jews that he will arrest anyone caught stealing, and speaks about the need for a strong independent ruler in the ghetto.

The melody of this song has a strong Jewish character.  The beginning of the song resembles another Yiddish song entitled 'Vu nemt men parnose?' (Where can one make a living?).  The song is in the ‘frigish’ mode, a minor mode with an augmented second commonly used in Jewish music.  The mode became a musical symbol for popular Yiddish music in America.