Shmerke (Shmaryahu) Kacherginsky (10.28.1908, Vilna / Vilnius - 4.23.1953, Argentina)

Updated: Apr 7

For International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Soon after the liberation of his hometown, the future poet, publicist, partisan and active member of the underground movement Shmerke Kacherginsky wrote: “Those who survived, not only can, but also must participate in the restoration of cultural institutions, in the revival of Jewish culture. Namely in Vilna! If even in the dark ghetto days, the singing, poetry, history, literary evenings, concerts and theatrical performances helped to preserve human dignity almost on the edge of the shooting pits, - then in the city freed from the Nazis, Jewish life shall revive all the more. " Kacherginsky was a communist. Therefore, after the Holocaust, during which not only the local population, but also a part of Soviet partisans were hostile to the Jews, he hoped that the Soviet government, being the internationalists’ power, would eradicate anti-Semitism. How could it be different, he believed, - after all, the Soviet army saved the Jews from final extermination! Alas, the reality turned out to be different. As early as in July-August 1944, Kacherginsky faced hostility from local representatives of the Soviet power. But he considered himself not only entitled, but also obliged to seek any action from the authorities to restore the Yiddish culture, for instance publishing a newspaper, opening a school, organizing radio broadcasts. After all, the survived Jews, including writers, poets and musicians, did begin to return to the liberated Vilnius. The young writer published his pre-war stories under the pseudonym "Haver (Comrade) Schmerke". He was among the founders of the “Yung Vilne” (Young Vilna) literary group - an association of young Yiddish poets and prose writers, as well as painters. In 1939, Kacherginsky left the city for a short time, but in June 1940, after Lithuania became completely Soviet, he returned to his hometown, now officially called Vilnius, where he took a prominent part in its cultural life. After Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, Kacherginsky ended up in the Vilna ghetto, where he participated in the work of the so-called "paper brigade" - a team of several dozen educated people who were forced by the Nazis to sort innumerable collections of books, documents, classics' manuscripts and other cultural relics. The most unique things were to be sent by the Nazis to Germany, the less important ones - to destruction at "paper mills". Shmerke and his colleagues, risking their lives every hour, managed to hide lots of most valuable relics from the Nazis. In September 1943, Kacherginsky fled the ghetto and joined a partisan detachment; later he took part in the liberation of his hometown. Later Kacherginsky told about partisan life in two books: “Partizaner geyen” (Partisans Marching, Buenos Aires, 1947, reprinted in Munich, 1948), and in a two-volume memoir “Ikh bin geven a partizan” (I Was a Partisan). Avraham Sutskever noted that "this book of memoirs has entered the treasury of Yiddish literature forever - an intelligent, truthful book!" As a partisan in the Naroch forests, he wrote his "Yugnt-himen" (Youth Anthem, 1943) and the poem "Shtiler, shtiler" (Hush, Hush) in memory of the Jews who were killed in Ponar. Disappointed in the Soviet government’s plans regarding the revival of Jewish culture, Kacherginsky legally left for Poland in 1946. At that every moment he was expelled from the Lithuanian Writers' Union as a traitor. Kacherginsky settled in Łódź, where he worked in the Central Jewish Historical Commission. There he married Mary Shutan. Having joined the socialist workers' party "Poaley Zion", he was appointed editor of the party weekly "Undzer vort" (Our Word). After the pogrom organized by the Poles against the Jews in the town of Kielce, Kacherginsky left Poland and moved to Paris. The writer-publicist responded to the cruel oppression of Jewish culture in the USSR with the book "Tsvishn hamer un serp" (Between a Hammer and a Sickle), published in Paris in 1949; its expanded edition was issued in 1950. In addition, Kacherginsky was retrieving the folklore created in the Vilna ghetto, and published it in two collections: "Dos gezang fun Vilner geto" (Song of the Vilna Ghetto, 1947) and "Di lider fun getos un lagern" (Songs of the Ghettos and Camps, 1948). In 1950, Kacherginsky moved to Argentina. In Buenos Aires he became a renowned Yiddish editor and speaker. Shmaryahu Kacherginsky’s life ended abruptly. In 1954, he fell a victim of a plane crash in the Andes while returning from New York. In 1955, a memory collection was published in Buenos Aires: "Shmerke Kacherginskis ondeynkbukh" (Book in Memory of Shmerke Kacherginsky), edited by Efim Ishurin.


Sh. Kacherginsky HUSH, HUSH

(word-for-word translation)


Hush, hush, let's keep silence,

Graves are growing here.

The enemies have planted them

- They are turning green to blue.

Roads lead towards Paneriai [Ponar in Yiddish],

No road leads back.

Dad has disappeared somewhere,

And with him the happiness.

Hush, my child, do not cry, treasure,

Crying won't help.

Our misfortune will not be understood

By the enemies, anyway.

Seas have shores,

Prisons have fences, too.

Only our torment

Has no ray of hope,

no ray of hope.


Springtime has come to the land,

And brought us autumn.

The day is full of flowers

- We only face the night.

Autumn is already gilding on the trees -

Grief is blooming in us.

Mom remains orphaned somewhere,

Her child goes to Paneriai.

Wilia (a river, also called Neris), the chained [in ice],

Is also moaning in pain,

Ice floes are drifting across Lithuania


Towards the sea.

The darkness is dissipating somewhere,

Suns are shining from the darkness -

Rider, come quickly:

Your child is calling you,

Your child is calling you.


Hush, hush, springs are welling out

Around our hearts.

Until the gate falls

We must remain dumb.

Don't enjoy yourself, child: your smile

Can betray us now.

The enemy must see the springtime

Like a leaf in autumn (a Yiddish idiom meaning: hardly ever).

Let the spring well out quietly,

[You, at the meantime,] be silent and hope ...

Dad will come along with freedom.

Sleep, my child, sleep.

Like the liberated Wilia,

Like trees putting on greenery anew,

Soon the freedom light will shine

On your face. On your face.



SPRING IN THE GHETTO

(word-for-word translation)


I am roaming the ghetto

From street to street

And I can't find a place for myself;

My beloved one is gone

How to endure this? -

People, say at least a word!

My home is illumed now

By the blue sky -

What good will it do for me?

I stand like a beggar

At every gate

Begging for a little sunlight.


Spring, take my sorrow away

And bring me back my dearest,

Devoted one.

Spring, on your blue wings,

Oh, take my heart with you

And give me back my happiness.

I go to work

Past our house [from which we have been banished by the Nazis].

Sadly, the gate is closed.

The day is dawning,

The flowers are withered,

They wither - for them there is night, too.

In the evening, on my way back,

Sorrow is gnawing me,

This is where you, beloved, [used to] wait.

Right here in the shadows,

We can still discern your trace,

You kissed me lovingly and tenderly.


This year, the springtime

Has come very early,

The longing for you has blossomed.

I see you as [if it were] now:

Loaded with flowers,

Joyfully you go up to me.

The sun has flooded

The garden with rays,

The land is overgrown with greenery.

My devoted, beloved one,

Where have you disappeared?

You cannot get out of my head.



Photo credit https://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/music/postwar.asp


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