Born on 17 December 1924, Rikle Glezer was only 16 when the Nazis invaded her home city of Vilna.  She wrote several songs during her years of imprisonment in the ghetto.  Most of her compositions were lyrics set to the melodies of popular songs: for example, her sarcastic indictment of ghetto life under the Nazi regime, ‘You, my ghetto’, was set to a melody by Isaak Dunajewski titled ‘Oh, my Moscow’.  Rather than depicting the beauty of Vilna, however, Glezer’s lyrics tell of the grim reality of smuggling food under conditions of disease, exhaustion and starvation.

Glezer’s best-known song was the popular ‘S'iz geven a zumertog’ (It was a summer’s day), which mentions the forest of Ponar, one of the most notorious sites of Nazi mass murder, where thousands of men, women and children from Vilna and the surrounding towns were shot and buried in mass graves. The simple and evocative lyrics were set to the melody of a popular Yiddish theatre song of the inter-war years, ‘Papirosn’ (Cigarettes), composed by Hermann Yablokoff.

Shortly after composing the song, Glezer was put on a train to be deported to a camp. The teenager managed to escape from the train, and joined the partisans in the forests surrounding Vilna.  The youngest member of the partisan group, Glezer continued to write between military actions.  Of the 60,000 Jews of Vilna who were alive in 1939, she was one of approximately 3,000 who survived to see the liberation of her home city by the Red Army.

Sources

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

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