The Life and Musical Works of Ilse Weber

“Music is a beatitude, it is there salvation lies.”

The life of Ilse Weber, and her Holocaust experiences, leaves a moving, intimate and heart-breaking legacy. An author, singer and songwriter born in former Czechoslovakia, Weber demonstrated many creative and musical talents before her life was violently interrupted by the rise of National Socialism during the Second World War. Following the annexation of her town to the Third Reich in 1939, Weber and her family faced various acts of persecution, resulting in her deportation to the Theresienstadt ghetto and concentration camp; she remained there until 1944 working in the children’s infirmary, composing poetry and songs to keep the younger prisoners entertained. At the beginning of 1944, when the population of the children’s infirmary were to be sent East, Weber refused to abandon them and voluntarily joined the transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where she and her son Tomáš were both murdered. Her husband Wilhelm survived the war, and managed to hide his wife’s poems and songs in a garden shed before their deportation from Theresienstadt, only to retrieve them in late 1945. Through the “forgotten” voice of Ilse Weber, preserved in her songs and recovered writings, we are reminded of the tragic loss of young talent, the contributions of female Jewish artists more broadly, and of the importance of creativity as a form of spiritual resistance in the face of human suffering and depravity.

Pre-war Life

Ilse Weber (née Herlinger) was born on 11th January 1903 in Vítkovice, a district of Ostrava- a city in the north east of today’s Czech Republic. Although Jews had not been permitted in Ostrava until the late Eighteenth Century, a steady community was eventually established in the area. Jewish refugees came from Galicia during World War I, and were followed by a large influx from Slovakia, Subcarpathian Rus’, and Bohemia after the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. With 4,969 Jews in 1921 and 6,865 in 1931, Ostrava had the third-largest Jewish population (after Prague and Brno) in interwar Czechoslovakia.

In her younger years, she learned to sing and play guitar, lute, mandolin and balalaika, though it is believed that she never considered a career as a professional musician; rather, she would pursue her skills in writing. Her mother Therese (1866–1942) had previously halted her own training as an amateur singer to focus on raising her family, but encouraged and influenced Weber’s artistic and religious education. The German-speaking Jewish family attended services at the local Temple, and celebrated religious and cultural holidays. Weber was an active member of many different cultural and religious groups, and equally fluent in German and Czech. Following the death of her father when she was just ten years old, Weber took comfort in folk tales and stories. By the age of thirteen, she began publishing poems and stories of her own in the girls’ magazine Das Kränzchen (The Garland). A gifted and enthusiastic writer, her work was recognised in local circles and later featured on the radio, through theatrical pieces and radio plays. Weber also started to write original folk tales for children, which were printed in German, Czech, and Austrian newspapers and magazines.

Ilse Weber and mother Therese Herlinger, 1920s, Source: Kingston Ostrava Group & Jewish Museum Prague Archives, Personal estate of Hanuš Weber

Ilse Weber with her lute, 1928, Source: Kingston Ostrava Group & Jewish Museum Prague Archives, Personal estate of Hanuš Weber

Pre-war Publications

At age twenty-five, Weber published her first book. Dedicated to her mother, Jüdische Kindermärchen (Jewish Tales for Children) was comprised of fantastical stories which, according to the Jewish Museum Berlin who have since digitised the publication, were intentionally set in Jewish environments, allowing young readers to learn about associated values, religion, and traditions. Rather than creating a narrative in which children live happy or carefree lives, however, Weber placed her young protagonists in everyday situations associated with religious and familial surroundings, where they encountered instances of social prejudice and exclusion. Through these folk tales, Weber sought to empower Jewish children to face the realities of the world, and provide them with a source of guidance, protection and pedagogy. She also incorporated Zionist themes, in which her characters dreamt of an idyllic Jewish homeland named the “Land of Israel”. Positive reviews of her written works and her innovative approach to storytelling offered the prospect of a bright future for Weber in the field of Jewish literature, and she proceeded to write two more children’s books: Das Trittrollerwettrennen und andere Erzählungen (The Scooter Race and Other Stories) and Die Geschichten um Mendel Rosenbusch: Erzählungen für jüdische Kinder (Tales about Mendel Rosenbusch: Short Stories for Jewish Children), in which a kind elderly man mysteriously receives a magic coin that enables him to become invisible at will, performing anonymous good deeds for his neighbours and various acts of kindness: a lesson in morals which she, herself, would perpetuate throughout her wartime experiences.

Ilse Herlinger, Fairy Tales, cover drawing and title page by Gre Edelstein, Moravia-Ostrau: publishing house bookshop Dr. R. Dyer; Jewish Museum Berlin, inv. no. BIB/155224/0

Anticipation of War

In 1930, Weber married her husband Wilhelm, affectionately known as Willi, and the pair settled in Prague, where she wrote for children's periodicals and became a producer for Czech radio. The couple had two sons, Hanuš and Tomáš, given the nickname Tommy. According to Hanuš, Weber had suffered with tuberculosis in her joints for some time, but continued to work in her position at the radio station and practice religious life as a Zionist. Following the rise of National Socialism under Adolf Hitler in 1933, the political situation in Ostrava increasingly worsened. In former Czechoslovakia, the centralised political structure caused nationalism to rise amongst the non-Czech nationalities, and several parties and movements were formed with the aim of broader political autonomy, such as the Sudeten German Party and the Slovak People's Party.

The German minority living in Sudetenland demanded autonomy from the Czechoslovak government, claiming they were suppressed. In the 1935 Parliamentary elections, the newly founded Sudeten German Party, led by Konrad Henlein and mostly financed by Nazi money, received over two-thirds of the Sudeten German vote. As a consequence, diplomatic relations between the Germans and the Czechs deteriorated further. The position of the Jewish community, especially in Slovakia, was ambiguous and, increasingly, a significant proportion looked towards Zionism, like Weber and her husband. Despite this, Weber was well assimilated and deeply connected with the German language and culture. Indeed, many Czech Jews in the German speaking world believed that artistic and cultural achievements would counter the “Nazi threat”.

Almost immediately after Hitler’s rise to power, Weber began writing letters to her Swedish friend Lilian von Löwenadler who was living in London, a number of which were preserved and rediscovered after the war. These letters documented her day to day musings upon family life, her career in radio and her writings, as well on interactions with other Jewish artists and intellectuals under rising antisemitism. At the same time, they also captured her fears, worries and difficult decisions that the family faced. As the situation worsened for Jews, these letters became more urgent and concerning, as Weber and her family considered exile or emigration as a solution to the looming persecution. On 14th June 1938, some months before the events of the November Pogrom, she confided to Von Löwenadler: “Being Jewish means being without rights, defenceless, a scapegoat for everybody. What have we here in the Republic, for which we are willing, with trembling fear, to sacrifice our lives? The German plague infects everybody and the Czechs have never loved us, just as other nations have not”.

Ilse’s mother Therese Herlinger and Ilse Weber with their sons Hanuš and Tommy, 1935, Source: Kingston Ostrava Group & Jewish Museum Prague Archives, Personal estate of Hanuš Weber

Occupation of Czechoslovakia and Outbreak of War

On 15th October 1938, German troops occupied Weber’s hometown of Vítkovice. Located in the Sudetenland, the German term for the part of Czechoslovakia inhabited by over three million Sudeten Germans, this area was ceded to Hitler as part of the Munich agreement, followed by the resignation of the Czech government. 

Weber and her husband Willi were forced to reconsider their options; life as they knew it began to change dramatically. The rest of her family moved from Vítkovice to join them in Prague, but as religious and cultural life became controlled by the German occupiers, with the ban of liberal newspapers and magazines and gradual erasure of Jewish art, music and literature, Weber struggled to find work. As such, their financial situation deteriorated. Receptive to Zionist ideas, she considered emigrating with their family to Palestine, though this did not work out. In May 1938, they succeeded in at least getting Hanuš out of the country to the United Kingdom, who was taken in by Weber’s friend and pen pal, Lilian von Löwenadler, the daughter of a Swedish diplomat. In a letter dated 14th March 1938, Weber wrote to Löwenadler in anticipation for the arrival of Hanuš: “He has not yet been directly affected by antisemitism. Perhaps there will be miracle and we Jews will continue to be equal here […] Once again, thousand thanks to you and your husband for your goodness”. Hanuš was brought to England on the last of four train transports of children from Prague organised by Sir Nicholas Winton, and stayed with Lilian and his Uncle for some time, before moving to Sweden, where he survived the rest of the war in the care of Löwenadler’s mother, Gertrude.

On March 15th 1939, Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia, including Prague where the Webers were then residing. Ostrava’s six synagogues were torched. In October of that year, 1,290 Jewish males were sent to Nisko nad Sanem, a forced-labour camp. Weber continued to write to both her friend and her son for as long as she could. In a letter sent to Hanuš and Gertrude in Sweden, dated 21st April 1941, she talks about her volunteering at a Jewish orphanage:

“It is, after all, amazing, how much my bit of music making helps […] When I come and sit down with my guitar, my table is immediately surrounded and there is singing”.

Yet, for Weber, Willi and Tomáš, the situation was not so hopeful. In February 1942, all three were deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp and ghetto. An additional 3,558 Jews from Ostrava were also deported to Terezin between February and September 1942. Therese, Weber’s mother and musical inspiration, was deported to Treblinka death camp on 19th October 1942, where she was murdered upon arrival.

Weber’s Creative Works in Theresienstadt

During her stay in Theresienstadt, Weber began working in the children’s infirmary, doing everything she could for her young patients without providing them medicine, which was forbidden for Jewish inmates. As confirmed in a letter written to his brother, Tomáš was housed in the camp’s children’s home. Both Weber and Willi also continued to write to Hanuš from the camp, imploring him to be safe, well and to write to them more. As their letters were subjected to censorship, they informed recipients that they were “well” and healthy, disguising the true nature of their situation.

As part of Weber’s rehabilitation for the children in her care, she composed nursey rhymes, lullabies, and poetry, in which she had taken such comfort as a young girl following the death of her father. Taking advantage of the time during her night watch and after her work duties, Weber created a small seating space for herself and others, from which she wrote approximately sixty poems during her incarceration, all in German. She set many of these to music, accompanying herself on the guitar and utilising “deceptively simple” tunes and imagery to describe the horrors she and her fellow inmates witnessed, the primitive nature of their everyday surroundings, and the importance of keeping music alive in spite of everything. Her guitar, which had been smuggled into the camp by a Czech police officer, hung on the wall and remained hidden from the SS guards. She also encouraged her young patients to write their own songs and poems, and formed a choir that played a part in the inmates free-time activities. Ruth Elias, whose space in the camp was next to Weber’s and therefore bore witness to much of Weber’s creativity, remembered of her friend: “It may sound paradoxical, but we spent unforgettable hours…during which she sang songs with the lute. Ilse was not only a poet, but also an excellent musician…I found it incomprehensible how she managed during this terrible time to see so much ugliness, but sometimes also beauty, and describe it so expressively in her verses…I became witness to her creation”. 

Her written prose and songs included: I Wander Through Theresienstadt, Musica Prohibita, Emigrants Song, The Lidice Sheep, Wiegala, And the Rain Falls, and Avowal of Belief. Although the creation of certain artworks, theatre and, musical performances were permitted in Terezin by the authorities, usually as part of the Nazis’ propaganda agenda for the camp as a false “model” for Jewish internment, clandestine and informal artistic creativity was illegal. Therefore, Weber’s songs and secret performances can be understood as a form of spiritual resistance. This is perhaps best demonstrated in the narrative of Musica Prohibita in which Weber reflects: “In this place, we are all condemned, a shamed, despairing crowd. All Instruments are contraband, no music is allowed. […] Music lights up a poet’s words, from our plight brings release, even the sparest songs of birds bear moments of blessed peace”. For Weber, then, it seems that salvation could be found in music. Moreover, her performances provided the children in her care with a sense of joy, normality, and relief.

Whilst she could not express her fears, anxieties or worries in her censored letters to her loved ones, she could capture them in song and poetry, and find “consolidation in language”. Writing lyrics became her method of coping. Moreover, the simplicity of her works do not adhere to an interpretive or “avant-garde” style of reflection that one might find in the works of survivors written years after the war, but they are contemporaneous recordings of camp life which bear witness to camp and ghetto life. Moreover, she adapted traditional German storytelling tropes for her nursery rhymes, such as The Magdeburg Barracks Gate which, as Michal Schwartz suggests, alludes to Weber taking control of the language of the perpetrators, and uses their own culture to describe the suffering of their victims, and the rupture of Germany’s values. In her ironically titled Theresienstadt Nursery Rhyme, Weber presented a macabre, paradoxical view of death through her sprightly and rhythmic nursery rhyme, which detailed children assisting with the “dead wagon”, which carried away bodies deceased prisoners:

“Rira, riraearse,
We’re riding in the hearse,
Rira, riraearse,
We’re riding in the hearse,
We stand there, we stand here
riding fast, cold corpses near,
We’re riding in the hearse”.

As an act of political resistance, Weber also referred to current events in her works, including the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich and subsequent violent retaliation by the SS, in which the entire village of Lidice was gradually liquidated. Dedicated to the victims of this massacre, Weber composed her poem The Sheep from Lidice. In doing so, the bravery with which she addressed such issues through intelligent, subtle satire and ridicule concretises the ways in which Weber sought to process the surrealness of the world around her, even if punishable by violence, or death.

An Act of Love: Voluntary Deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau

For two years, Weber and her family managed to create some kind of calm and productive life in Theresienstadt. According to Hanuš, who continued correspondence with his mother until the end, his parents remained optimistic about the future, especially when they could attend theatre plays and receive food packages. He even noted that his father, who worked as a gardener, was able to smuggle weapons into the camp, storing them in the fire stations. At the same time, deportations to Poland occurred regularly. Inmates were acutely aware that they could be next, as rumours started to spread of the horrific fates that awaited Jews deported “to the East”. Weber even composed her pre-emptive Lullaby from the Poland Transport, one verse of which reads: “Sleep well little one, we have come far, our home has vanished in the dark, stolen a long time ago. We loved it dearly, it is no more. We sit in silence and find no words, we’re going all the way to Poland”. Because of this, her husband Willi implored his wife to promise that she would not volunteer for any transportation out of Theresienstadt, to which she agreed.

Yet, in 1944, Willi found himself on a transport list of 5000 men selected to “work in Dresden”, who were in fact brought first to Auschwitz, then to the Gleiwitz concentration camp. Willi was assured that his deportation would mean that his family could stay “comfortably” in Thereseinstadt”, and that he could correspond with them regularly. This turned out to be a false promise, one of many that the SS made to prisoners in order to gain their trust and cooperation. In a letter written by Willi to Gertrude von Löwenadler in 1945, he recalled the moment in which the family were separated in 1944, as well as the importance of her songs for those who were interned in the camp: “Until September 44, Isle, Tommy and I, with some relatives of mine, were still in Theresienstadt. […] her poems and songs have become with time the common property of thousands of people. […] a nurse who had worked with Ilse took away my illusion and told me that after the departure of the 5000 men, another 15,000 persons were sent away. Ilse was in one of these transports”.

The nurse who Willi had met in Prague confirmed that Weber and Tommy had left for Auschwitz following the news that the entire children’s infirmary in which she worked would be deported at the beginning of October 1944. According to her colleague, Weber refused to abandon the sick children, and so voluntarily registered to accompany them to Auschwitz, most likely under the belief that she would be reunited with her husband, despite knowing the destination of the transport and what that could potentially mean for her and her son. Tragically, Weber and Tommy were gassed immediately after they arrived in Poland on 6th October. Willi asked every Auschwitz survivor that he encountered if they had seen his wife and child, or remembered encountering them in the camp. Eventually, he had to abandon hope, and pronounced them both dead in 1946, confirmed officially by the Civil District Court in Prague on 9th January 1947.

Wilhelm, who carried his own miraculous story of survival from Gleiwitz, was eventually reunited with his son Hanuš following the end of the war, when the child was sent back to Prague to live permanently with his father. Eventually, Hanuš settled in Sweden. Willi eventually remarried, this time to a woman he had met in Theresienstadt, before passing away aged 73 in 1974. After World War II, approximately 250 Jews returned to Ostrava and a Jewish community—covering northern Moravia and Silesia—was re-established. By 1997, this number was reduced to eighty.

Post-war Memory and Recovery of Works

Prior to his transport order to Auschwitz in 1944, Willi collected the physical copies of his wife’s creative works with the intention of concealing them in a hidden location in Theresienstadt. Given his position as a gardener, he had access to the perimeters of the camp. He filled an old sack with these precious documents, including the songs and poetry she had composed throughout her imprisonment, and dug a hole in the ground in one of the tool sheds he used before burying the bundle, and covering the hole with a layer of clay. Two or three days later, he was deported. After his liberation in 1945, Willi regained enough strength to return to Terezin, where he visited the shed to retrieve the sack. Fearing the Soviet liberators might burn the documents, he smuggled Weber’s works out of the camp with the aid of a soldier with whom he was familiar. Thanks to these extraordinary efforts, Weber’s body of works survived the war, even though she herself did not. In the earlier years of the post-war period, Willi and Hanuš were also sent additional verses written by Weber from friends or inmates who had been in the camp, but which had not been preserved in the hidden collection. According to Hanuš, a great many people reported that Weber’s poetry and songs had been a source of inspiration during those bleak times, and had helped them retain their will to live, demonstrating the impact that her presence and resistance had on those around her.

In her research, historian Ulrike Migdal also recalled a remarkable story concerning the legacy of Weber’s contemporaneous works during the war. According to another survivor of Theresienstadt, the aforementioned poem The Sheep from Lidice, Weber’s response to the SS massacre of Lidice, was smuggled out of the camp but fell into the hands of the Germans, who sought to identify and punish the author. Weber was never identified, nor was she singled out by any of her fellow prisoners. Such acts of comradery illustrate the importance of Weber’s creative works and the legacy of her compositions amongst those who encountered them. Moreover, she was often asked by the inmates and children in her care to repeat her songs over and over, resulting in many memorising her words by heart. As such, Willi and Hanuš continued to communicate with numerous survivors who recalled the comfort that Weber’s lyrics and prose had provided them, both during the Holocaust and after. As Willi would later conclude: “Theresienstadt was the peak of Ilse’s career as a write […] with her songs and poems, she gave people new hope for a better tomorrow”.

In 1977, not long after Wilhelm’s passing, a trunk containing Weber’s letters to Gertrude and Lillian von Löwenadler, from 1933 to 1944, was delivered to Hanuš in Sweden. Unable to bring himself to read his mother’s words, he stored the letters away. Weber’s brother Oscar, who resided in Israel, asked to see the collection of correspondence as part of a personal initiative to piece together his familial history, which encouraged Hanuš to finally read the letters, and to learn of her journey from the rise of National Socialism, until her death. Only then did Hanuš realise the extent of his mother’s artistic skill, her passion for storytelling and her love for music, and gained insight into his family’s wartime experiences. Some years later, Hanuš encountered an old friend from Ostrava, who had seen Ilse Weber in her last moments before entering the gas chambers in Auschwitz. He informed Hanuš that he had recognised Weber and Tommy from Theresienstadt and she, who in turn recognised him, had asked what was about to happen to her and the children from the infirmary – would they be taking a shower? He recalled telling her: “…it is a gas chamber, and I will give you a piece of advice now. I have often heard you singing in the infirmary. Go as quickly as possible into the chamber. Sit with the children on the floor and start singing. Sing what you always sing with them”. In response, Weber let out a strange, absent laugh, hugged one of the children, and began to inform them: “So we will not be taking a shower…”. 


Beyond those who encountered Weber personally, and who could recall her songs as part of their own, lived memory, her works have also become increasingly well-known as part of the collective memory of the Holocaust, especially following the fall of the communist regime in the Czech Republic. In addition to her pre-war writing and children’s books, which are currently preserved in the archives of institutions such as the Jewish Museum Berlin, Weber’s compositions from the war period have since been published. The first of these was a collective volume in 1991, entitled “Inside These Walls, Sorrow Lives”. Copies of her collection of poetry, songs, and letters have been provided to the archives of the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, where they are now available to read digitally. In 2008, the Munich-based publisher Carl Hanser Verlag brought out a collection of her letters and poems entitled: Wann wohl das Leid ein Ende hat (When will the suffering come to an end), collated by the German historian Ulrike Migdal. Weber's son Hanuš participated in a cultural program commemorating his mother's work in Berlin on 22nd May 2008, before writing a book on his mother’s life titled Ilse: A Love Story Without a Happy Ending. In 2016, her poems, songs and letters were also published in the substantial volume Ilse Weber, Dancing on a Powder Keg, in coordination with Yad Vashem. Her song Wiegala was used in Paula Vogel's play, Indecent.

Indeed, Weber’s songs continue to be re-recorded by musicians and artists today. On 15th April 2018, Aviva Bar-On, one of Weber’s patients from Theresienstadt, performed one of her songs from memory and with no written prompts during a concert in Jerusalem. The event was a tribute to Nazi concentration camp victims who had composed music, attended by the Prime Minister of Israel and numerous Holocaust survivors.  Bar-On chose to sing When I Was Lying Down in Terezin’s Children’s Clinic, in which Weber recorded her experiences of working as a nurse. This piece was also one of those preserved by Wilhelm in the ground. In an interview following the performance, Bar-On recalled: “She was a wonderful, smiling lady. She played the mandolin and sang. Some of her songs were very funny. Now I’m [one of] the only ones in the world who remembers them. The musical life of the camp was very rich”. 

Ultimately, Weber’s life was one marked by violence and tragedy, but her voice, her memory and her legacy lives on through her written and musical works. Indeed, her persistent need to compose and create, despite the dangers she would face if she was uncovered by the SS, combined with her need to provide others with a form of relief through art and song, is testament to the generous and compassionate person she was. It also demonstrates the strength that she maintained throughout her wartime experiences, and the impact that she had on the other survivors, who recalled her songs fondly and attributed their spiritual resistance to her lyricism. Weber’s bravery would even see her follow the children from Theresienstadt into the depths of Auschwitz, where her own fate would also be sealed. Lastly, through the efforts of her husband Wilhelm to preserve her words and compositions, as well as those of her son Hanuš to share her story with the world, her songs and poems remain a crucial part of both familial and cultural history, reminding us that music can provide light, even in the darkest of times. 

By Dr. Hannah Wilson


“Ostrava”, The YIVO Encyclopaedia of Jews in Eastern Europe: (accessed Dec 2022)

“Isle Weber, née Herlinger”, Jüdisches Museum Berlin: (accessed Dec 2022)

Oral history interview with Hanus Weber, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Accession Number: 2019.84.61 | RG Number: RG-90.047.0061

"Slovakia Synagogues, Jewish Cemeteries, Jewish Museum Bratislava". Slovak Jewish Heritage:

Michal Schwartz, “Foreword: Ilse Weber and her Cultural Milieu” in Ilse Weber, Dancing on a Powder Keg, (Israel and Canada: Yad Vashem & Bunim and Bannigan Ltd, 2016), xii

“Therese Terezie Herlinger (Bellak)”, (accessed Dec 2022)

Weber, Dancing on a Powder Keg, 51-52.

Ruth Elias quoted in Weber, Dancing on a Powder Keg, 308-9.

Weber, Dancing on a Powder Keg, 137-139.

Schwartz, “Foreword”, Weber, Dancing on a Powder Keg, xvii

Weber, Dancing on a Powder Keg, 259.

Ulrike Migdal, “Afterword: Against Forgetting”, Weber, Dancing on a Powder Keg, 275.

Documentation of Ilse (Herlinger) Weber, 1933-1945, Record Group: O.75 - Letters and Postcards Collection File Number: 2453, Yad Vashem.

Meagan Flynn, “How thousands of songs composed in concentration camps are finding new life”, The Washington Post, April 17 2018: (accessed Dec 2022)

Portrait of Ilse Weber (colourised)

Wiegala, wiegala, weier
der Wind spielt auf der Leier
er spielt so süß im grünen Ried
die Nachtigall, die singt ihr Lied. 
Wiegala, wiegala, weier
der Wind spielt auf der Leier. 

Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
der Mond ist die Laterne,
er steht am dunklen Himmelszelt
und schaut hernieder auf die Welt.
Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
der Mond ist die Laterne,

Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
wie ist die Welt so stille!
Es stört kein Laut die süße Ruh,
schlaf mein Kindchen, schlaf auch du.
Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
wie ist die Welt so stille!

Wiegala, wiegala, weier,
the wind plays on the lyre.
It plays so sweetly in the green reeds.
The nightingale sings its song.

Wiegala, wiegala, weier,
the wind plays on the lyre.
Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
the moon is a lantern.
It stands in the darkened firmament
and gazes down on the world.
Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
the moon is a lantern.

Wiegala, weigala, wille,
how silent is the world!
No sound disturbs the lovely peace.
Sleep, my little child, sleep too.
Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
how silent is the world!

(Sometimes referred to as “I Wander Through Theresienstadt”) 

Ich wandere durch Theresienstadt,
vorbei an dem strengen Gendarmen,
die Laute, die man mir geliehen hat,
wie ein Kind verpackt in den Armen.

Mein Herz schlägt schneller,
die Wange brennt in des Gefürchteten Nähe.
Es wäre geschehen um das Instrument
wenn er es bei mir sähe.

Wir sind ja verurteilt an diesem Ort
zu tiefster Verzweiflung und Schande,
und die Instrumente nahm man uns fort
als gefährliche Konterbande.

Wir dulden Hunger und Freiheitsraub und alles,
womit sie uns quälen,
doch richten sich immer empor aus dem Staub
die niedergetretenen Seelen.

Wir dürfen, umgeben von Tod und von Grauen,
den Glauben an uns nicht verlieren.
Wir müssen der Freude Altäre bauen
in den düsteren Massenquartieren.

Mit Dichterwort und ein wenig Musik
wollen wir dem Elend entfliehen.
Aus schlichten Liedern soll bißchen
Glück und gütiges Vergessen erblühen.

Und wenn wieder einige sich gestehen,
die nahe schon am Verzagen:
»Es ist auf der Welt doch auch manchmal schön,
nun können wir’s wieder ertragen«

dann fühlt man um sich so reiches Glück,
daß man geholfen hat den Armen,
und trägt furchtlos die Laute wieder
zurück unter dem Blick des Gendarmen.

I wander through Theresienstadt,
A policemen’s glance makes my flesh crawl,
the lute I found is concealed, held tight
wrapped like an infant in a shawl.

My heart beats fast, my cheeks are hot,
I dread his probing eyes.
If he discovered what I’ve got
they’ll take the lute I prize.

In this place, we are all condemned,
a shamed, despairing crowd.
All Instruments are contraband,
no music is allowed.

Want and cruelty we endure,
every torment they devise.
Let  them try our spirits more,
from the dust, we shall arise.

We must be strong within ourselves,
lest in despair and dread we drown.
Must sing until the song dissolves
these walls, and our joy tears them down.

Music lights up a poet’s words,
from our plight brings release,
even the sparest songs of birds
bear moments of blessed peace.

And when again we lose our nerve
drowning, drowning in despair,
the boundless beauty of the world
wafts resuscitating air. 

Music is a beatitude,
it is there salvation lies.
Fearlessly, I tote my lute
beneath the policeman’s eyes.