Di yunge mame

In Montreal, in 1959, David Botwinik set music to the poem ‘Di Yunge Mame’ (The Young mother). The lyrics were written by Avraham Sutzkever in Vilna in August 1944 after the liberation of the city. Botwinik explains this song as follows in his book From Holocaust to Life:

A young mother returns to her home and finds that all that remains of her precious baby daughter Khanele is a doll left behind in the cradle. The mother tenderly cares for the lifeless doll, but to no avail. At the end of the song, the mother awakens from her reverie with an agonizing scream.

Lisa Willson, soprano, performed the world premiere of this composition in March 2011.

The above translation (by Naomi Cohen, Leybl Botwinik, and Alexander Botwinik) together with the original Yiddish text and complete musical score can be found in the book From Holocaust to Life: New Yiddish Songs. See http://botwinikmusic.com.

Az fun gorer velt iz ir farblibn,
Bloyz ir kinds a lyalke un nit mer — 
Vemen zol di yunge mame libn,
Ver vet ir an entfer gebn, ver?
Hakt zi tsu di tir af shlos un rigl,
Un vi frier leygt zi itst af s'nay
In dem pustn, pustn, pustn vigl
Dos fargafte kind fun portselay.
Vent un balkn glimtsern in frirung,
Inem fentster shtekt a bintl shtroy —
Tut zi on a shmeykhl vi a tsirung
Oykh dos kind zol mitshmeykhlen azoy.
Nor di lyalke veynt. Me hot ir kholem
Tsugeroybt fun oysgeshtrekte hent.
Iz zi krank gevorn khas-vesholem?
Vey mir, vi dos shterndl ir brent!
Viklen mames lipn ayn dem shtern:
— 'Nite, nite Khanele, nit veyn,
Vayl a volf a beyzer ken derhern.'
Un di trern vergn zi aleyn.
Tut di mame Khanelen shoyn leygn
Tsu der ziser brust un vigt zi tsu
Un zi git der lyalke oykh tsu zeygn:
— 'Aylelyu, mayn lebn, aylelyu.'
Un di lyalke zeygt. Es git a bleykhl
Af di liplekh blezndiker shoym,
Un fardremlt ayngevigt in shmeykhl,
Bloyz di vies tsitern koym-koym.
Dremlt oykh di mame bay ir shenster.
Ober plutsem vekt zi a geshrey:
Mer nito dos bintl shtroy in fentster,
Un vi shtern falt arayn a shney.

Since all that she has left in the whole world
Is one of her child’s dolls and nothing more,
Whom should the young mother love,
Who will offer her an answer, who?

She fastens the door with lock and bolt,
And as she used to, she places once again
In the empty, empty, empty cradle,
The wide-eyed porcelain child.

Walls and rafters sparkle with frost,
A bundle of straw fills the window-frame, —
Then she puts on a smile, like jewellery
So the child too will smile along with her.

But the doll is crying. Her dream
Was robbed from outstretched hands.
Did she, God forbid, become ill?
Woe is me, how her little forehead is burning.

Mother’s lips wrap the child’s forehead: 
'No, no, Khanele, don’t cry,
Because an angry wolf may hear you.' 
And she chokes on her own tears.

The mother brings Khanele
To her sweet breast, and rocks her,
And she offers the doll to nurse, as well:
— 'Aylelyu, my darling, aylelyu.'

And the doll suckles. A little bubble
Appears on her foamy lips,
And dreamingly cradled with a smile,  
Only the eyelids tremble a little.

The mother also dozes with her pretty little one.
But suddenly a scream awakens her: 
The bundle of straw is no longer in the window,
And like stars the snow is falling in.