Rumkovski Khayim

'Rumkowski Khayim' was known to many survivors of the Łódź ghetto

The opening three verses speak in turn about the three Khayims: Khayim Rumkowski, Khayim Weitzmann, the Zionist leader, and Khayim der grober (the fat), the undertaker of the ghetto.  The latter’s nickname is a multilevel pun relating to his physical appearance (grober in Yiddish means fat one) and to his profession (grabber is German for gravedigger).  The real name of Khayim der grober was Khayim Perzerkowski; he survived the war and died soon after its end, in 1945 in Łódź.

The final two verses give sarcastic praise to Rumkowski.  These might be considered as dues paid to the 'Emperor', so he would not get angry and arrest the singer.  These verses could have been improvised when the singer saw Rumkowski in the streets, and were probably not composed at the same time as the first three verses.

Throughout the song, contrasts are made between 'him', the leader, and 'us', the ghetto dwellers.  The name Khayim literally means 'life', but the song, which was composed in the ghetto, has other important features.  In its many layered allusions to the heritage of Jewish cultural life, biblical themes, Hassidic folklore, and Zionism, 'Rumkowski Khayim' is a powerfully ironic commentary on the abuses of power, the senseless infliction of suffering on one’s fellow man, and the negation of life – death.

The melody of 'Rumkowski Khayim', which contributed to its popularity in the ghetto, may have been adapted from another source.  It is characteristic of Jewish folksong with reminders of cantorial recitation, and this may have been its origin.  It is cast in a minor mode.  It makes use of a distinctive rhythmic manner of text setting – iambic pentameter – a melodic-rhythmic figure with a universal repetition.  This figure, according to some scholars, is characteristic of Jewish folksong.

The 'sweet' melody with its ironic cantorial ornamentations carries a profound commentary on daily suffering in the ghetto.  The match between the text and the melody caused the song to live in the memory of the survivors, who sang it to Gila Flam or recalled it in their written memories.

This version was sung by Yaakov Rotenberg (b. Łódź 1926) in Israel in 1984 and recorded by Gila Flam. The song was published by Gila Flam in her book Singing for Survival: Songs of the Łódź Ghetto (1992). It has been arranged and recorded by Klezmer group Brave Old World in their album Song of the Łódź Ghetto (2006) as well as by other performers.

Rumkovski khayim (Rumkowski Chaim)
Verse 1:
Yidalekh zaynen gebentsht mit khayim,
Khayim leolam muves,
Khayim fin beys ha’khayim,
Rumkovski khayin mit zayn groysn nes.
Er makht dekh nisim oy,
Yeydn tug azoy,
Gevald tsi shrayen oy,oy,oy,
Yeyder ayner freygt:
A tsvayte shayle, oy,
Zugt er khayim s’iz git azoy!
Vayl [er iz] indzer khayim,
Er get indz klayen,
Er get indz gropn,
Er get indz man.
Fartsaytns hobn di midber yidn gegesn man,
Haynt est shoyn yeder vayb ir man.
Rumkowski khayim hot git getrakht,
Gearbet shver bay tug by nakht,
Gemakht a geto in a dyeto
In er shrayt gevald a[z] er iz gerakht!
Verse 2:
Khayim vaytsman hot gezugt:
Az er vil di yidn in palestina hobn.
Hot zay gehaysn akern zeyen,
Er hot zay dortn git bagrubn.
Ober indzer khayim’l
Rumkoski khayim,
Er get indz yeydn tug shrayim:
Ayner a shtik broyt,
In tsvaytn a shtik ferd,
Me leygt by eyem oykh tif in drerd.
Vayl iz indzer …
Verse 3:
Der driter khayim fin beys ha’khayim,
Hot mit malekh [ha]muves a git gesheft gemakht:
Er zol im tsishtelm maysim vus mer,
Er zol im tsishteln bay tug bay nakht.
Hot zekh der malekh [ha]muves genimen
Tsi der arbet shnel
Er makht fin yedn giber oy a tel:
Er makht des flink,
Er makht des git,
Er makht di gantser geto shvakh in mid.
Vayl iz  indzer
Verse 4:
In a zimer tug,
Geveyzn iz a tug a hayser,
Geyt rumkovski in der gas,
Er zet dekh oys vi a keyser.
A hele antsug, oy,
In tinkele briln,
Politsay arum bevakht.
Ikh zug aykh guer
Indzer keyser hot gruer huer,
Lebn zol er gantse hindert yuer!
Vayl iz indzer
Verse 5:
Rumkovski khayim der eltster yude,
Iz ungeshtelt by di Gestapo.
Miye yidalakh zaynen zayne bruder,
In er farzorgt indz di papo.
Er makht dekh nisim oy,
Yeydn tug azoy
Gevald tsi shrayen oy,oy, oy!
Yeyder ayner freygt:
A tsvayte shayle, oy!
Zugt er khayim s’iz git azoy!

Lyrics: Yankele Hershkowitz
Melody: folk songs
Performed by: Yaakov Rotenberg
Recorded by: Gila Flam, Israel 1984
Verse 1:
Jews are blessed with Khayim (life),
Life unto death.
Khayim from the house of Life (the cemetery),
Rumkowski Khayim with his great miracle.
He performs miracles every day,
Enough to make you cry 'Gevalt!'
Everyone’s asking a different question,
But Khayim just says 'Everything is fine!'
But our Khayim is great,
He gives us bran,
He gives us barley,
He gives us manna.
In times gone by, Jews ate man (manna)
    in the desert;
Today every wife is eating her own man.
Rumkowski Khayim thought it through well,
Worked hard by day and night.
He created a ghetto with a diet (food store),
And he cries 'Gevalt!' that he is right.
Verse 2:
Khayim Weitzmann said
He wanted Jews to go to Palestine.
He told them to plow and to sow,
He sent them all to hell!
But our Khayim, Rumkowski Khayim,
He gives us the leftovers every day,
One person gets a piece of bread,
Another a piece of horsemeat.
He’s sending the whole ghetto to hell
Verse 3:
The third Khayim from the House of Life
Made a good deal with the Angel of Death.
He should provide him more and more corpses,
He should provide them day and night.
So the Angel of Death
Got to work right away;
He makes a mess out of every hero.
He does it quickly,
He does it well;
He makes the whole ghetto weak and tired.
Verse 4:
On a summer day,
A hot day,
Rumkowski goes through the streets
Looking like an emperor.
A light colored suit,
And dark glasses,
Surrounded by police
I tell you, folks,
Our emperor has grey hair.
May he live to be a hundred
(not the traditional 120)
Verse 5:
Rumkowski Khayim, the Eldest of the Jews,
Is employed by the Gestapo.
We Jews are his brothers,
And he supplies us food.
He makes miracles,
Every day
For heaven’s sake oy, oy, oy,
Everyone asks
A second question oy.
Khayim says: 'It’s good this way!'