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Hirsh Glik

Last Update 13 August 2006

"From these fields of pain, love will be born again... tomorrow."
- A prisoner in the Ravensbrück concentration camp -

Shmaryahu (Shmerl) Kaczerginski
On 1 May 1943, a group of Jewish writers and poets met in the Vilnius Ghetto for an evening devoted to "Spring in Yiddish literature". The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was still raging and the meeting was filled with the spirit of the ongoing battle. At the meeting, the poet Shmaryahu Kaczerginski met his fellow poet Hirsh Glik, and was informed that Glik had written a new poem. They met the next morning.
"Now listen carefully, I'll sing it for you,” Glik said. Kaczerginski recalled:
"He began to sing it softly, but full of excitement. His eyes glowed with little sparks. The hour for which we yearned will come anew. Where did he get his faith? His voice became firmer. He tapped out the rhythm with his foot, as if he was marching.
The song that Hirsh Glik sang that May morning - “Zog Nit Keynmol“ - was to spread with amazing speed throughout the ghettos and camps, becoming a symbol of hope and defiance. Quickly adopted by Jewish partisans, it is sometimes known as “Song of the Partisans”, inspiring Jews to fight if they could, but if they could not fight, at least to survive.
After the war, the song was taken up by Jewish communities around the world, where it has been sung as a memorial to Jews martyred during the Shoah, even being included by some families in their Seder night Passover service.

Hirsh Glik was born in 1922 in Vilnius into a poor family; his father was a used clothes dealer. Acknowledged as an outstanding young author, he began to write poems in Hebrew when he was only thirteen, later writing mainly in Yiddish. Because of his family’s poverty he was forced to end his studies prematurely and become an apprentice in a paper business, later working in a hardware store.

Following the occupation of Vilnius by the Germans on 26 June 1941, Glik and his father were among those Jews arbitrarily seized and sent to work in the peat bogs at Biala-Waka and Rzesza. Even in captivity, Glik continued to write.

In early 1943 the Biala-Waka camp was liquidated and Glik was sent to the Vilnius Ghetto, where he joined the United Partisan Organization (Fareynegte Partizaner Organitzatsye – FPO) and continued with his writing.
Among the songs he wrote was "Shtil, Di Nacht Iz Oysgeshternt", which recounted the heroic deeds of Vitka Kempner, a female resistance fighter, who together with two companions, Itzik Matskevitsch and Moyshe Brause, blew up a German military transport carrying 200 German soldiers on the outskirts of Vilnius in 1942, the first successful diversionary act of sabotage by the Jewish partisans of Vilnius.
Abba Kovner recorded:
Lithuanians did not do it, nor Poles, nor Russians. A Jewish woman did it, a woman who, after she did this, had no base to return to. She had to walk three days and nights with wounded legs and feet. She had to go back to the ghetto. Were she to have been captured, the whole ghetto might have been held responsible."
It was to be the first of many acts of resistance in which Vitka Kempner was to be involved.

On 1 September 1943, the FPO unit to which Glik belonged was captured and he was deported to Estonia, initially to the camp at Narva, subsequently to that at Goldfilz.
Even in the camps Glik continued to create, reciting his poems to his fellow prisoners who memorized them and passed them on. Some written copies of his poems were buried in the Vilnius Ghetto, but the great majority of his works are presumed lost.
In summer 1944, together with eight other FPO men, Glik escaped from Goldfilz. The advancing Soviet Army was in the region and the intention was to join the local partisans. But Glik and all of his companions disappeared, probably captured and executed by German soldiers in the area.

During the years of Nazi persecution, Glik had deliberately composed poems that were intended to be sung - to raise morale, to encourage the partisans and to strengthen the Jews’ faith and hope in the future. His most famous song “Zog Nit Keynmol” based on a melody by two Soviet Jewish composers, Dimitri and Daniel Pokras, has been translated into many different languages and remains a lasting monument to the triumph of the human spirit, a beacon to illuminate a world of darkness.

Gutman, Israel, ed. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1990
Gilbert, Martin. The Holocaust – The Jewish Tragedy, William Collins Sons & Co. Limited, London, 1986

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