Baym Geto Toyerl (At the Ghetto’s Gate)

Lyrics: Abraham Axelrod
Melody: Mark Varshavski

Baym Geto Toyerl (At the Ghetto’s Gate)

The song is performed by an unidentified man, recorded for the Central Jewish Historical Commission, Munich 1946. The song was published in Kaczerginski’s Lider fun di Getos un Lagern (1948: words – p. 155 melody – p. 394), entitled ”Fun di Arbet” (From Work).

The first line hints to the source of the song – the well-known Yiddish song written by Mark Varshavski, “Oyfn Pripetshik” [At the Fireplace], also known in Hebrew as “Cheder Kat” (The Tiny Cheder). In the original song, the author describes a warm and welcoming cheder – a Torah school for young children taught by their Rebbe. The song from the Kovno ghetto describes the Jewish ghetto inhabitants who go to work outside the ghetto gate and return through it. In order to survive, they must smuggle food and other goods into the ghetto. The German and Lithuanian guards, warming themselves by a bonfire near the gate, carry out searches, placing the Jews in mortal danger every day. However, if they succeed to smuggle goods into the ghetto, the residents will get a loaf of bread.

On the one hand, the use of a well-known Yiddish melody brings comfort; on the other it reinforces the duality between the past and present in the ghetto, adding meaning to the song.

Baym geto toyerl
Brent a fayerl,
Un di shrek iz groys.
Es geyen yidelekh
Fun di brigadelekh,
Fun yedn gist zikh shveys.

Tsi zol ikh vayter geyn,
Tsi zol ikh blaybn shteyn,
Ikh veys nit ven un vu?
Der komendantele
In grinem mantele
Er nemt dokh ales tsu.

Milkh fun fendele
Shpek fun kendele-
Oy yidelekh, men brent!
Holts a shaytele,
Gelt fun baytele
Er khapt alts fun di hent.

O, khaver mitn shtrayf,
Ikh bin in gantsn treyf,
Helf mir baym kontrol.
Ikh gib dir af dem tsvek
Haynt a kilo shpek,
Un morgn nokh a mol.

Shtelt zikh oys tsu fir,
Un du shtey lebn mir,
Gey nit in der zayt.
Gey tsum rekhtn goy
"Shitas yau tvarkoy"
S'iz do a labn broyt.