Itsik Vitnberg

Lyrics: Shmerke Kaczerginski
Melody: Russian Melody

Itsik Vitnberg

This performance of the song, from a recording for the Central Jewish Historical Commission, Munich, 1946, is by Shmerke Kaczerginski, who sings all five verses and repeats the second part of each verse.

The song was published in Lider fun di Getos un Lagern (1948, words – pp. 341-342, melody – p. 426), in Mir Zaynen Do (1983, p. 87) with English translation, in Min Hametsar Karati (1954, p. 197), in Min Hametsar (1987, p. 88) with Hebrew translation, and in other anthologies.

The title of the song is its subject, Itsik Vitnberg. The song tells of the tragic story of Vitnberg, whose death caused the Vilna partisans to leave the city for the forests to forestall the liquidation of the ghetto by the Nazis.

In a note on the song, Kaczerginski writes: “On the night of 16 July 1943, the Gestapo arrested the commander of the Vilna partisans, Itsik Vitnberg. Some partisans managed to break into his prison cell and freed him.  The next day the Gestapo threatened the liquidation of the entire ghetto population if Vitnberg did not surrender. Though he knew that the ghetto would be destroyed whether he gave himself up or not, and that the Gestapo was just using him as an excuse, he turned himself in to avoid hostility between the ghetto residents and the Vilna partisans. Two days later, he was murdered.”

The song, like other Vilna ghetto and partisans songs, describes the incident and humanizes the surrounding nature, nighttime. The dark of night helps the partisans fight and free Vitnberg, until he surrenders his life for the sake of everyone else. The melody is taken from a popular Russian song.

S'ligt ergets fartayet
Der faynd vi a khaye,
Der mauzer er vakht in mayn hant.
Nor plutsem geshtapo,
Es firt a geshmidtn
Durkh fintsternish dem komendant.

Di nakht hot mit blitsn
Dos geto tserisn.
Gefar  – shrayt a toyer, a vant.
Khaveyrim getraye
Fun keytn bafrayen,
Farshvindn mit dem komendant.

Di nakht iz farfloygn,
Der toyt far di oygn
Dos geto es fibert in brand.
In umru dos geto,
Es drot di geshtapo,
Toyt - oder dem komendant!

Gezogt hot dan itsik
Un durkh vi a blits iz -
"Ikh vil nit ir zolt tsulib mir
Darfn dem lebn
Dem soyne opgebn"...
Tsum toyt geyt shtolts der komandir!

Ligt vider fartayet
Der faynd vi a khaye,
Vakhst fester mayn mauzer, in hant,
Itst bist mir tayer,
Zay du mayn bafrayer,
Zay du itster mayn komendant!