Yiddish Glory ‘The Lost Songs Of World War II’ CD (Six Degrees) 4/5

Commemorating the Holocaust memorial is that most solemn of circumstances, but out of the very worst of the human condition comes something far more positive and that the label Six Degrees deserves credit for releasing via academic research in Canada, and more especially, as a result of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant. Three years in completion, this Soviet-based Yiddish music was kept for posterity thanks to the sterling efforts of ethnomusicologists from the former Soviet Union, and the major loss of human life in that nation should never be underestimated. None of the music composed has been performed since 1947 and thus this is the first time that the music has been heard by a wider public in over seventy years. Now part of modern-day Ukraine, the government in Kiev has created a Cabinet for Jewish Culture and the music within this CD chronicles a pivotal era in history for the Jewish diaspora. The primary aim was to publish an anthology of songs, but it was an ambition that was never realised at the time due to the arrest of a key figure, Moisei Beregovsky, who was captured during Stalin’s anti-Jewish purge. The music lay dormant and unheard until in the 1990s a librarian at the National Library of Ukraine discovered an unnamed box including documents. This is the first catalogue that has been created since the original one was destroyed during the 1940s. With the aid of translators, the songs lyrics are henceforth available in both English and Yiddish versions in the well illustrated inner sleeve and individual details on each of the song tell their own story. Of major historical interest, the songs constitute primary source testimonies of Nazi German atrocities, and provide detailed accounts in particular of how Red Army soldiers experienced life in the trenches. What is less well-known is that approximately 440,000 Jews enlisted in the army in World War II. Musical accompaniment has recreated the original feel with the sound of the piano and guitar, of accordion, clarinet and even trumpet and this adds an authentic slice of folk music and that can be enjoyed in its own right. Some of the songs challenge the established wisdom of how Soviet Jews made sense of the war. As a whole, what this project demonstrates is that music has the capacity to reveal the truth and, perhaps, that is the greatest accomplishment of this praiseworthy academic/musical project: the music within has opened the door to a wider understanding of what really happened with songs that Hitler and Stalin believed ought to be silenced and did everything in their power to try to suppress.

Tim Stenhouse

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