Oy iz undzer lebn haynt (Woe are our lives today)

or Dray zek mel - Three sacks of Flour

A song from the Lodz Ghetto. The song is also known by its title “Dray zek mel” – Three sacks of flour. This recording was made for the Jewish Historical Commission, Munich, 1946. It was recorded by Naphtali Freedman

The song was composed and sung in the ghetto by Yankele Hershkowitz (1910-1972), – the troubadour of the ghetto, who composed and performed in the streets of the ghetto and later in the workshops, expressing the thoughts and moods of the ghetto inhabitants.

Variants of the song were published in Yosl Vaysblatt, Paris 1994, pp. 17-18 (in Yiddish), and by Gila Flam, Illinois 1992, pp. 61-66 (in transliteration, English translation and musical notes), who recorded the song from Yaakov Rotenberg, a survivor from Lodz, in Israel in 1984.  According to both sources the song was composed in 1940 during the first year of the ghetto’s existence.   

The song is a commentary on the thievery so common in the ghetto and on one event in particular: the theft of three sacks of flour in the guise of a funeral.  The thieves were caught and sent to the ghetto prison.  This event was documented in the “Chronicles of the Lodz Ghetto. The song praises the creativity of the thieves, which increased as the hunger worsened. 

The refrain describes the “good times” of the ghetto.  Once again the street singer ironically and sardonically uses the idea of “good” to mean ”bad” – shortage of food and low moral standards.

The third verse discussed the common occurrence of stealing food and leftovers, “sh’rayim”. Everyone steals throughout the day. The food is in essence leftovers, and even those are unattainable.

In the fourth verse, spring comes to the ghetto; the festival of Shavuot (Weeks), the fields have become green. This establishes the date the song was written as the first summer of the ghetto, 1940. However, in the ghetto, instead of going on vacation, one goes to Marysin. In Marysin, the former green forest area of Lodz, was the cemetery.  At the end of this verse, the singer identifies himself as Yaakov, and ends the song with the pessimistic vision that the war will end only after he is already buried in the cemetery. Such a pessimistic tone was not typical fur the street song genre, and may be a later addition.

The melody of this song is that of another Yiddish song entitled “Vu nemt men parnose” [Where can one make a living?].  The song is in the ‘frigish’ mode, a minor mode with augmented second used in Jewish music; the mode became a musical symbol for popular Yiddish music in America.

Oy iz undzer lebn haynt
Farbitert zeyer, gel.
Franshikaner gas aroysgeganvet
Dray zek mel.
S'khapt kholere,
An afere,
Ale arestirt.
Dray zek mel
Hot men mit di agole aroysgefirt.

S'iz kaydankes keytn,
S'iz gute tsaytn,
Keyner vet zikh do nisht shemen
Ale viln haynt nor nemen
Abi nor zayn zat.

Nekhtn a levaye
Gevezn a geshrey,
Mit agole ganovim zikh
Gegebn a gutn drey.
Mentshn neysim zenen
far shrek gevorn gel
S'iz keyn meysim gor gevezn
Nor dray zek mel.

S'iz kaydankes kaytn…

S'ganvet moyshe, s'ganvet khayim,
S'ganvet oykh nisl,
Mit yadayim nemt men shirayim
Fun di kools shisl.
Oykh fesl fun dem kesl
Nemt oykh arop.
Yedn tog gist men vaser-
Dos iz undzer zup.

S'iz kaydankes kaytn

S'iz shoyn bald shvues
Kolerave grin,
Anshtot keyn vishniyave gere
Fort men keyn marishin.
Vi ikh heys, vilt ir visn?
Yankev iz mayn nomen.
In keyver arayn vet men undz zogn
Az es iz shoyn nokh der milkhome.