In early 1943, the Jewish Council of the Vilna ghetto announced a music competition.  The winning entry was a melody composed by an eleven-year-old boy named Alek Volkoviski, who attended a music school in the ghetto and had composed several other songs already, including music for Avraham Sutzkever’s poem ‘A nem ton dem ayzn’.  The boy was already well known for his remarkable talent as a pianist.

This particular piece –- entitled ‘Shtiler, shtiler’ (Hush, hush), with lyrics later added by the ghetto poet Shmerke Kaczerginski -- became one of the best-loved songs of the ghetto. The lullaby was first performed at one of the last Jewish Council-organised concerts before the ghetto’s liquidation in 1943. Due to the increasingly tense environment, the original line 'all roads lead to Ponar' had to be changed to 'all roads lead there now'.  Despite the modifications, the audience understood what was being implied, and the song became a hit.

With the liquidation of the ghetto, Volkoviski and his mother were sent to a concentration camp; they were two of the few Vilna Jews to survive the war.  After the liberation Volkoviski moved to Israel, where he became a professional pianist working under the name A. Tamir.  ‘Shtiler, shtiler’ is still a popular and frequently performed song, often sung today in memory of the murdered Jews of Europe.

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.  

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