Vus zol men tien yidn

The song contains a cynical description of Rumkowski and dates from the early days of the ghetto when people did not have enough work and food.  The refrain presents a series of questions with no answers – helpless, hopeless questions: what shall we do when we are hungry and there is no food?

The second part of each verse represents Rumkowski’s answers to his hungry masses: one day we shall have bread and butter, and meatballs from horse meat.  However, the first part of each verse says something different. It mentions various Jewish holidays but imagines them celebrated in topsy-turvy fashion.  Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), which takes place in the Autumn and normally lasts eight days ending in Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah) will instead last for several months.  And at Purim (the carnival festival celebrating the rescue of the Jews in Persia) which normally occurs in the Spring, people will instead celebrate Simchat Torah, which commemorates the beginning of the Torah cycle reading.

This song is the only one in which Purim is mentioned.  Purim itself, with its carnival costumes and plays, was never celebrated in the ghetto.  Traditionally Purim is a time of inversion in which the opposite of normality is celebrated.  But in the ghetto, where normal life was reversed to begin with, how could a Purimshpiel [a Purim play] be followed by a return to normality?  The ghetto was clearly not the place for games and plays presenting absurdity, since life was already entirely absurd.

In general this song describes the poverty of the ghetto's inhabitants, who end up selling all their belongings in order to obtain food, yet still find themselves hungry. The melody resembles another Yiddish folksong 'Tsen brider' (Ten brothers), and incorporates many Yiddish musical characteristics.

The song was probably composed by Yankele Hershkowitz in the ghetto. It is sung by Yaakov Rotenberg, and recorded by Gila Flam.

Vus zol men tien yidn?
Lyrics: Yankele Hershkowitz
Vus zol men tien yidn
Az es iz aza min klug!
Vus zol men tien mentshn?
Esn darf men yedn tug!
Az der mugn vil nisht visn,
Fin kayn geto zakh,
Nor er shrayt in er farlangt
Tsi esn zeyer a sakh.
Verse 1:
S’geyt der libe vinter
S’falt a shrek a moyre,
M’et nokh pirim zitsn in di sikes,
S’vet zayn simkhes toyre,
Indzer prezes khayim
Iz a mentsh a giter,
M’et nokh in di geto esn
Zemelekh mit piter.
Refrain: Vus zol men …
Verse 2:
S’geyt der libe vinter
S'falt a shrek a moyre,
Nisht kayn paltn, nisht kayb begged,
S’vet zayn simkhes toyre.
Kh’hob farkoyft di shank shoyn
In di shvigers betn,
S’vet mir startchn broyt in piter
In ferd’s flaysh kokletn.
Refrain: Vus zol men tien yidn…

Lyrics : Yankele Hershkowitz
What shall we do, Jews
When there is such tragedy?
What shall we do, people?
We have to eat, every day!
Because the stomach doesn’t want to know
Anything about our ghetto business.
It only screams and demands
To eat and eat some more.
Verse 1:
Here comes our beloved winter,
Bringing fear and terror,
We’ll sit in the sukkah for Purim
And celebrate Simchat Torah.
Our president Khayim
Is a good man,
And we’ll eat in the ghetto
Rolls with butter.
What shall we do, Jews...
Verse 2:
Here comes our beloved winter
Bringing fear and terror.
No overcoat, no clothes,
Soon it will be Simchat Torah.
I’ve already sold the cabinet
And my mother-in-law’s bed.
I’ll get bread and butter
And horse meat meatballs.
What shall we do, Jews...