Vinter 1942 – Geto Łódzź
During the time of her internment in the Łódź ghetto, Miriam Harel felt the need to record what she had seen, felt and thought. Her audience was members of her family, especially her sister. She wrote words to seven poems, sometimes adapting familiar melodies to her own lyrics in order to entertain her family. This song, is a domestic song. Miriam composed it after the 'great curfew' of September 1942 in which 20,000 Jews were deported from the ghetto to Chelmno.
The act of singing is an expression of hope as Miriam explained before singing it: 'The song is a cry, and afterwards you feel free.' This song however speaks of the suffering of the singer and her family and expresses no hope.
It is a parody on a Yiddish folksong known by its title 'Yikhes' (Family background), which speaks about a poor, working-class Jewish family in Czarist Russia. The future groom describes the future bride’s family: her father, mother, brother, sister, grandfather, grandmother etc. The original song begins like this:
Why are you angry my pussycat?
Why the long face?
Would you like to hear about your background?
I’ll tell you all about it!
Your father greases the wheels,
Your mother steals fish in the marketplace
Your brother is a card-shark
And your sister ‘tra la la la la’ (crazy).
The original song is humorous song, which calls for amused sympathy. Miriam’s lyrics, in contrast, are not humorous, but speak of deep despair and helplessness. The irony that emerges when one contrasts the original song with the new lyrics is very powerful: the original spoke of a time when people believed that things could always be worse, and that destiny, no matter how harsh, could be greeted with smile. Miriam’s new lyrics, on the other hand, speak to a present of unimaginable horror. The only one smiling in the ghetto is Satan.
Despite the use of the first person, Miriam’s lyrics do not in fact refer to her own family situation. At the time she wrote them (1942) her mother, sister, and younger brother were still alive. Thus, the poem perhaps may be understood on the one hand, in a historical sense, as a description of the commonplace ghetto disappearances and dissolutions of families; and on the other, it may be understood prophetically for Miriam was indeed to lose her parents and most of her family. She herself was deported to Auschwitz, survived and immigrated to Israel in 1948.