Yiddish Workers’ Song

This is a real piece of forgotten Jewish working-class culture. I’ve put up a number of Socialist Jewish songs and anthems in Yiddish and Hebrew, including the Communist Internationale and the anthem of the Russian/Polish Bund. The Bund were the mass Jewish socialist party in Poland, fighting for the rights of Polish Jews who strongly rejected Zionism and wished to live in peace and equality in their native country with their gentile Polish compatriots. This song, Dem Arbeters Lid, ‘The Workers’ Song’, from Jane Peppler’s channel on YouTube, is characteristically Jewish but also strongly internationalist It says at one point that ‘race and nationality mean nothing to you’. It comes from the Jewish Labor Movement, which I would imagine is the American Jewish socialist movement, as shown by the thumbnail of a picket line of lady tailors on strike. It’s composer, Louis Gilrod, used as the tune the American song ‘The Mother of the Girl I Love’. It’s in Waltz time and reminds me very strongly of Edwardian British parlour songs.

It opens by describing the exhausted, penniless, ‘self-enslaved’ Jewish workers toiling as tailors. Their children are naked and their wives sick and weak. But they will bring about a new social order in which they will be free and there will be no rich and poor. These are sentiments that would no doubt leave the British Jewish Labour Movement, now a part of the Labour party, screaming in fury along with some of the other Blairites. Because somehow, some of them have got it into their tiny minds that socialism is anti-Semitic because it’s against capitalism. Presumably the Blairite moron who said this Radio 4 didn’t realise that by equating capitalism with Jewry she had just expressed the same views as Hitler and other grotty fascists, such as our own wretched Oswald Mosley. The picture of the squalor and poverty of the workers in the garment industry is absolutely accurate. Many, perhaps most of the Jewish immigrants to America were Yiddish-speaking Romanian fleeing persecution in that country. They were dirt poor, living in poorly furnished, overcrowded tenements, sometimes even just occupying stairwells. Many of the women were poorly paid workers in the garment industry. One of the most horrific disasters that hit the New York Jewish community in this period was a fire that broke out in one of the upper stories of one of the clothing factories. This resulted in tens, perhaps over a hundred dead. some of the women were killed because there were no adequate exits, and so leapt to their deaths. As for the myth of Jews sticking together against gentiles, the factories’ owners were also Jews who lived in the affluent districts uptown with their gentile neighbours.


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4 Responses to “Yiddish Workers’ Song”

  1. trev Says:

    I once lived in the Manningham area, an inner-city district of Bradford, an area now known as being predominantly Asian Pakistani Muslim populated and infamous for having been the scene of some of the worst riots seen outside Northern Ireland. Manningham once was, however, the residence of the Mercantile Class, the newly emerging wealthy Middle Class of the Industrial Revolution, many of whom (in Bradford) were Jews of German origin living alongside self-made Yorkshire Merchants and Textile Tycoons in the rather grand Victorian architectural Manningham skyline, whilst only streets away lived the mill workers.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks for that, Trev. One of my uncles was of Jewish descent, and his daughter has been trying to trace her Jewish family’s history. It seems her father, or grandfather, I’ve forgotten whom, grew up in the local workhouse in Bedminister, now a suburb of Bristol. Bristol has had a Jewish community, on and off, for centuries. There was a Jewry just off the present centre in the Middle Ages before they were expelled by Edward I. They were back by the 18th century, when one eminent citizen was looking for a doctor. He said he had no object to a Jewish doctor, provided he pretended to profess Christianity. And in the 1820s one observer was shocked to find that the local corporation included not just respectable Anglicans, but Protestant nonconformists, Roman Catholics and even Jews and atheists!

      • trev Says:

        Besides the Jewish merchants of the Industrial revolution there were Jewish populations in Yorkshire in the Middle Ages who were famously persecuted in Leeds and York a century before the banishment under King Edward I, in York the entire Jewish population were murdered in 1190.

      • beastrabban Says:

        I think archaeologists found the remains of those massacred in the mass grave. I’ve got a feeling it may have been in another supermarket car park. The remains were treated with the dignity they deserved, and were reburied with a rabbi supervising the process and presumably conducting the ceremony.

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