In the spring of 1943, Kasriel Broydo wrote ‘Tsum besern morgn’ (Toward a better tomorrow), a song of hope for the future of the Vilna Jews.  This prolific writer and composer, who had been one of the most important figures in the blossoming of the ghetto theatre, spent the next few months preparing one of his many theatre revues, titled 'Moyshe halt zikh' (Moyshe, hold on).  Just days before it was to be completed, during the liquidation of the ghetto in September 1943, he was seized by the Gestapo. The first part of his journey took him to camps in Latvia and Lithuania, where he continued to compose, despite the unbearable conditions.  He was taken to Stutthof, near Gdansk, as a slave labourer.  As the Red Army drew nearer, he was forced along with thousands of other prisoners on a death march in the dead of winter, setting off on 25 January 1945.  Some were sent west to Germany, but several thousand, Broydo among them, were sent east.  Those who survived the initial march, without food, water or winter clothing, reached a small town on the Baltic Sea, where they were locked in an abandoned factory for several days.  They were then marched in groups of five to the water's edge, and pushed into the freezing water through holes that had been blasted into the ice.  Those who tried to scramble out were shot.  This was the tortured end of one of the most talented and successful of the Vilna theatre world’s members.

Broydo was born in Vilna in 1907, and grew up in the years when the city’s rich Jewish cultural life supported its reputation as the ‘Jerusalem of Lithuania’.   After completing his schooling at the Hebrew high school in Vilna, Broydo began working in the Yiddish theatre, performing with various troupes, as well as in amateur circles and puppet theatres.  He also began writing scripts and music, and soon many of his creations were circulating widely.  During the inter-war years he moved to France, where he pursued his theatrical career.  However, with the invasion of Poland by the Germans, he decided to return to his home city of Vilna.

In the Vilna ghetto, Broydo quickly became a key figure in cultural life. In addition to acting and directing, he wrote poems, songs and theatre revues.  He played a role, in one form or another, in almost every play put on during the ghetto years.  Many of his songs were hits, sung by the people of the ghetto during their daily work.  Although his lyrics did not shy away from the misery that surrounded the inmates, they also frequently expressed hope for the future or offered encouragement.

Among his most popular songs composed during the war were ‘Geto, dikh fargesn vel ikh keyn mol nit’ (Ghetto, I’ll never forget you), ‘Es shlogt di sho’ (The hour has struck), and ‘Moyshe halt zikh’ (Moyshe, hold on).  His songs often singled out the forgotten heroes and victims, especially women and children.  One of his songs, originally written for a theatre revue, was adapted to become the unofficial hymn of the ghetto orphanage.  His musical revues included ‘Korene yorn un vey tsu di teg’ (Years of corn and years of woe), ‘Men ken gornit visn’ (You can never know), and ‘Moyshe halt zikh’. Fortunately, many of Broydo’s songs survived the war. Several are still considered classics, and are sung both in their original Yiddish and in translation.

Sources

Fater, Y., 1970. Yidishe muzik in poyln tsvishn beyde velt-milkohmes, Tel Aviv: Velt federatsye fun poylishe yidn.  

Freund, F., Ruttner, F. & Safrian, H. eds., Ess Firt Kejn Weg Zurik.: Geschichte und Lieder des Ghettos von Wilna, 1941-1943, Vienna: Picus.  

Gilbert, S., 2005. Music in the Holocaust: Confronting Life in the Nazi Ghettos and Camps, Oxford: Oxford University Press.  

Katsherginski, S. & Leivick, H. eds., Lider fun di Getos un Lagern, New York: Alveltlekher Yidisher Kultur-Kongres.  

Silverman, J., 2002. The Undying Flame: Ballads and Songs of the Holocaust, Syracuse University Press.