Monday, November 9, 2009

Hiphop Holocaust

With the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht upon us (we have a special commemoration planned for this Friday at Congregation Adas Emuno, for example), the question of how to communicate the Holocaust would be a timely one.  Simply put, the magnitude of the event seems to go beyond our meager abilities to express it, that any attempt to put it into words or any other type of symbol system cannot help but fall short, and thereby trivialize it.  And yet, at the same time, we feel an obligation not to remain silent, and more importantly, an obligation to remember, to keep the memory alive in the hopes that such an event might never happen again, or failing that, might at least not go unchallenged.

This has special significance for me, as the child of Holocaust survivors.

It was therefore with more than a little interest that I viewed an Israeli hiphop YouTube video about the Holocaust when it was brought to my attention.  The intent, clearly, is to communicate to young people, to the generations that are growing increasingly more distanced from the Holocaust, as the number of survivors are dwindling, and the past recedes from memory.

Here is the information provided with the video:

This song is dedicated to the Jewish Holocaust and is part of the Gedenk movement.

The Gedenk Movement (Remember!)
A humanitarian campaign to raise youth awareness about genocide through art and education.
Gedenk is a word that means "remember" in Yiddish.
Gedenk is a movement established in 2006 as a humanitarian campaign that promotes youth education about anti-Semitism and the Jewish Holocaust.

Gedenk will use commercial outlets, i.e. music, dance, billboards and celebrities, to communicate its message and make the Jewish Holocaust relevant to today's youth. Those that do not speak up are as guilty as the criminals themselves!

Our broader mission is to educate the youth and the general population about the consequences of bigotry and hatred- from the Armenian genocide, during World War I, the Jewish and Roma Holocaust of World War II, Rwanda in the 1990s, to Darfur today.

We believe it is no longer acceptable to remain silent, for it is today's generation that is responsible for remembering the history of the world and insuring that such heinous crimes will never be tolerated again.

"My father and mother lost most of their family in Iran and in Tunis. They found refuge in the land of Israel at 1948, leaving everything they had behind. With everything that's going on in the world today, my mission is to make my country a better place to live in. In order to do so, we must take the lessons that we have learned from past events, especially with Iran's agenda to deny that the Holocaust never happened, and remember that such tragic events must not be repeated!

Subliminal, Best selling Hiphop artist in Israel & Ambassador of honor for the Israeli Government.

"I am third generation to Holocaust Survivors and it is my responsibility to tell the story. Remembrance of the Holocaust is critical to preventing further acts of genocide, if we don't tell the story of these terrible events we could increase the risk that it will be repeated."

Miri Ben-Ari, Grammy Award Winner Violinist

Gedenk Web Site:

Tact Records official site:

And here now is the video, entitled, God Almighty When Will It End?

There is no point in asking if this video trivializes the Holocaust, because as already noted there is no way to avoid it when expressing the inexpressible.  And I will be the first to admit that I don't relate to this genre of music.  It is clear to me that rap and hiphop generally involve a very serious, often angry and assertive presentation.  In this, there is something in common with the folk music movement of the sixties, which was characterized by an earnest social conscience, and expressions of protest.  Rap seems to be more personality driven, though, more a product of television's culture of narcissism rather than the group-centeredness of oral culture.  As Neil Postman might have asked, is this video about the Holocaust, or about this Subliminal fellow?  For my part, rap and hiphop bring to mind the parodies I've seen on the part of Weird Al Yankovic and Sascha Baron Cohen, aka Ali G.  But again, that's just me, and I do think it is commendable to try to translate the memorial into a language that is spoken by young people all over the world.  How successful it is in achieving its goal it is hard for me to assess.  The dance that is included does seem to express some sense of the agony of the Holocaust in an appropriate manner.  The violin provides a much-needed link to the culture of Holocaust Jewry.  And the rapper speaks from a contemporary position in a serious and respectful manner.  With some reservations, then, I commend and recommend this video.

Since I brought up the subject of folk music, the song that was used to represent the Holocaust when I was growing up was a Yiddish folk song entitled "Dona, Dona" (or some variation thereof), which we typically sang in English translation.  Here is a live amateur recording of Joan Baez (who made the song famous in the sixties) performing the song live in concert on July 14 2007, in Abenberg, German:

And here's a studio recording by Donovan:

Now here's a version with different lyrics, a looser translation, I believe, by Esther and Abi Ofarim (whom I've never heard of before):

Finally, let me share with you a performance of the original Yiddish version by Lisa Fishman:

And here is the information she provided to accompnay the video on youtube:

This is a performance I did of the Yiddish classic, "Dona Dona," on the 'Jewish Entertainment Hour,' a cable show broadcast out of New York City, in 2001.

I grew up singing the ENGLISH version made popular by Joan Baez at summer camp. It wasn't until I was an adult and discovered Eastern European Jewish Music (= often referred to as "Klezmer" music) and started studying Yiddish that I learned that the song was actually originally written in Yiddish for the Yiddish Theatre.

Accompanying me on piano is New York's AMAZING pianist, arranger, composer, and musical director, Alex Rybeck.

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More from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"Donna Donna" (דאָנאַ דאָנאַ "Dana Dana", דאָס קעלבל "Dos Kelbl") was a very popular song in America, and also in a number of other countries, for example, in Japan it has long been sung in schools.


The song was written as "Dana Dana" in Yiddish, for the musical play "Esterke" (1940-1941); words written by Aaron Zeitlin, music written by Sholom Secunda. Both of them were Jews, and the song was written in days of Nazism. The song was prohibited in South Korea as a communist song [1].

The first translation into English was made by Secunda himself but did not become popular. The song in English became well known as "Donna Donna" when it was translated approximately in 1956 by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz. The song became especially popular after the performance of Joan Baez in 1960 and Donovan in 1965, and was even featured on "More Chad & Jeremy", a Capitol Records compilation of standards sung by the British duo.

The song has been translated into many other languages including German, French, Japanese, Hebrew, and Russian.

The song has been sung by many singers including André Zweig, Joan Baez, Donovan, Chava Alberstein, Esther Ofarim, Theodore Bikel, Karsten Troyke, Hélène Rollès in duet with Dorothée, Claude François, and Russian ensemble of the Jewish songs on Yiddish "Dona".
Lisa Fishman also commands an amazing opera version aired on the Jewish Entertainment Hour, which is a cable show broadcast out of New York City, in 2001. It can also be found on the soundtrack to the anime "Revolutionary Girl Utena".

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PS: To all Yiddish speakers: I am aware of my lyric flub in verse 2 -- It was a live performance and I momentarily blanked!

PPS: I didn't know until just now when I copied and pasted the 'Wikipedia' article that my performance is actually mentioned in their piece -- wow!

PPPS: THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who has posted their sweet and informative comments here! -- I SO appreciate it!


Please note that my intent here is not to try to suggest that one song is superior to another, or one artist for that matter.  These are apples and oranges, after all, and the point is to communicate and connect through any and all means possible.  I just wanted to share with you the music that connected with me back in the sixties, and continues to connect with me today.  Ultimately, there is no substitute for memory as commemoration, as a living, shared tradition that no doubt will continue to evolve over time.  So maybe what we need is a"Dona, Dona" hiphop version?


Bruce I. Kodish said...

Thanks for putting up the Subliminal video, Lance.

I know enough Hebrew to appreciate his poetry and I think he did well to express what he could. That he did it in Hebrew made it more moving to me. The video itself I found distracting.

The rap group NWA, I believe, (they had a Jew in the group) did another hip-hop piece in English awhile ago that brought tears to my eyes. I'll try to find a web reference to it for you.

Bruce I. Kodish said...

Not NWA, but the Wu-Tang Clan. Remedy, Jewish member of the Wu-Tang Killa Beez (extended musical family), did the piece called "Never Again."

See for a story on Remedy and "Never Again."

See --Remedy's page from the Wu-Tang website.

You can see a video of him performing it on You Tube:

The History Man said...

I work for We just put up a number of collections of original documents concerning the Holocaust. There is an interactive section on the site with the pictures and stories of those who died and those who survived. You can add pictures, memories, documents and stories of these individuals, so they will not be forgotten. All of the collections posted are free until the end of the year. Remembering through music, dance and the rest of the arts is a powerful way to do just that. The documentation that we have is also a powerful way to know that what happened was not just as bad, but worse than what we have imagined.
Thanks for the article and connected art pieces.

The History Man

Holocaust Page