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Kaczerginski, Shmerke

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He was born in Vilna in 1908, this precocious artist, "El partisano trovador" (the partisan troubadour) was also a political idealist and had a terrible life marked by fatality.

He was born in Vilnius on October 28, 1908, he became from very young age a familiar figure to all who spoke idish. Although not much had been written existed about Shmerke, this situation was reversed with his death in 1954, thanks to the publication of Ondenk-Bukh, a volume of reports commissioned, edited and financed by fan residents in Buenos Aires . Half a century after, this book is still the best source of information about the life and work of Shmerke Kaczerginski.

To Imagine how he looked like, just remember that he was short, pot belly and an enlarged front, symptoms of a disease that he suffered as a child and as a consequence of poverty during the war. His eyes were expressive and gentle though it was slightly cross-eyed and wise smile never faded from his lips. In school he was distinguished  as a good student and best buddy.

He professed devotion to literature, which led him to the printing business which in turn helped him to his other passion: radical politics. As  and idealistic teenager, he was attracted by the communist youth organizations which "evangelized" marginalized Jewish classes in Vilnius.

Sometimes he was  beaten and arrested, and it was said he had organized a drama club to entertain the Jewish prisoners in central jail of that population.

His reputation grew thanks to  two books that he had written in mid-adolescence: "Nevada at Night", that never was compiled and "Fathers, mothers, children". Later on  appeared Barricades, reaching a lasting popularity, and which was written when he was 15 years.

In short, the chose the printing bussiness  as his profession because he had fallen in love with the printed word, books and writing.

Vilnius became the Lithuanian capital when Poland was defeated by  Germany in September 1939. And Shmerke Kaczerginski knew his destiny was with the Communists, fled the city after the Red Army ended its occupation, which lasted a month. Subsequently, in the Soviet Vilnius, found work in various cultural organizations.

In June 1941, less than a year after the Soviet seizure of power, Germany had turned against his ally and invaded the Baltic states and Vilnius, the historic capital of Lithuania, was annexed by Poland during the Polish-Soviet War. As in all newly conquered eastern territories, those Jews who were not mur dered in Vilna became confined to ghettos or sent to labor camps. But it was finally discovered and confined to the ghetto, in early 1942. Kaczerginski Shmerke eluded the initial raid by pretending to be a deaf as his Polish and heavily accented idish could have betrayed him.

He wandered begging around town with a can and  until he was finally discovered and confined to the ghetto, in early 1942. There, as a resistance organizer, he wrote songs to comfort and encourage the residents of the ghetto, while designing plans to undermine the enemy.

He realized that the fun could be a positive force in those hard times. It is said, that in the ghetto he met Barbara Kaufman, who was his first wife, but he widowed in a very short time. It was 1943 and the lyrics he wrote in that time reflect uncertainty and the stubborn hope that characterized life in the ghetto.

Many of them immediately became popular, including tango elegiac Friling (Spring) created on the occasion of the death of Barbara and Yugnt Hymen (Hymn of Youth) which was adopted as the anthem of ghetto youth club.

The day the Vilna ghetto partisans mobilized to defend their commander Itsik Vitnberg, despite knowing that the final hour approached, he continued to write his diary.

When representatives of Einsatzstab Rosenberg, the Nazi official agency for the confiscation of Jewish cultural property, came to Vilna with the intention of plundering the legendary collections of old and Jewish books in the city, the Germans chose a qualified team of intellectuals of the ghetto.They should choose the most valuable ones to send to Frankfurt bound for the Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question. Shmerke Kaczerginski warned that the Germans had burned thousands ofbooks.

After the failed uprising of September 1943 and the subsequent death of Itsik Vitnberg partisan commander, Shmerke Kaczerginski left the ghetto with other members of his unit and spent the rest of the war in the forested border between Belarus Lithuania.

In August 1944 Kaczerginski Shmerke participated in the liberation of her hometown by Soviet forces and soon became involved in the task of locating and rescuing books, art and other cultural Jews elements, that the members of the Paper Brigade had hidden from the Nazis.

Almost immediately after the war ended, Kaczerginski wanted to publish the songs and the testimonies he had created and compiled. Finally, he convinced himself of the inflexible antisemitism of the Soviet leadership, (only temporarily suppressed during the match against Germany), he left Vilna forever and settled in Lodz, a city where he largely avoided the devastation during the war. There Kaczerginski Shmerke dedicated his free time to help the Jewish children of the city, mostly orphans, to start a new life.

It was early in 1946 he organized and directed a show to commemorates the The Nazi Suffering and Jewish Resistance to the young residents of a preparatory Kibbutz, run by the  Zionist cooperative  Gordoniya. One participant, Meir Shapiro Vilnai, who was 19 at that time recalled that event almost six decades later. He said that Shmerke Kaczerginski wrote and sang a half-hour creation with stories and recalled that one of the songs said "From a twig grow a tree ..." and ending "Never say you've reached the final path ...". Vilnai Shapiro who was the leading figure and five other participants were then frozen as statues.

Kaczerginski found time to remarry, this time with Szufan Meri-born resident of Lodz Svencionys. Despite his professional and personal commitments that Shmerke Kaczerginski had in Lodz, he did not like the idea of living under a Soviet-style government that was consolidating at that time in Poland.

With antiSemitism again on the rise and especially after the "pogrom" in Kielce in July 1946, most Yiddishists remaining in the country abandoned the hope of a Jewish cultural renaissance in Poland. Among them, Kaczerginski, who decided to join the exodus of Jewish intellectuals.

In early 1950, Shmerke Kaczerginski visited Israel and enthusiastic about the project to help build a new nation, he considered moving there.  But a job offer in Argentina realted to the Jewish Cultural Congress, made Buenos Aires  a more convenient place to settle and in May of that year the family sailed for South America. About his first days in Argentina, the authors of the introduction of Ondenk-Bukh recalled that his arrival triggered expressions of affection and enthusiasm to the fighter and singer of the idish Vilnius and the indefatigable creator of a new culture idish.

In very short time he won the affections of Argentine Jews and his friends were counted by thousands, except for the party supporters in the Jewish community of Argentina, who could not forgive his conversion to the cause anti-communist.

In Argentina, as he did before in Paris and Lodz, he maintained a dense program, speaking about the life in the ghetto, guerrilla warfare and the Soviet situation, writing songs, poems and occasional pieces including a theatrical musical drama  on the "Vitnberg Case" and making tireless campaign for Jewish Culture.

Also, as he did throughout his career, tried to make a living from journalism, being a correspondent for the Israeli Labor Party newspaper Hadoar. His most important work published in Argentina was the two-volume biography "Ikh bin geven a partizan. Di grine legende" (I was a partisan. The green legend) that are actually a transcript of his diary written during the war.

He also published a booklet summarizing a collection of songs, Geto a leading Yisroel (Songs of the ghetto and Israel) and he began working on a new anthology of traditional songs in idish. It was a belated success as a composer who achieved. Zol di shoyn kumen geule (Leave it reaches salvation) was adapted from a melody by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the spiritual leader of the Jewish population of Palestine.

As a popular lecturer, Kaczerginski frequently traveled overseas and toured the Jewish population in Argentina. During the week of Pésaj while visiting the province of Mendoza in 1954, he found out that locals Communist sympathizers had called for a boycott of his speech. Unwilling to lose the opportunity to be heard, he promised to stay another day and talk with anyone who would listen.

He expected a small audience at this unexpected opportunity but he found more than a hundred people, eager to share his experiences about the Vilna ghetto and his heroic experiences as underground fighter.

Grateful to the audience and elated to have confused his opponents,and at the same time  eager to return to his family and friends in the capital, put aside the long train ride and opted for the plane.

The next morning, at the airport, he met in July Gotlib, a young man who also returned to Buenos Aires. Suddenly Gotlib changed his plans, declaring he prefered  traveling by train, just about boarding his plane and Shmerke Kaczerginski rebuked by saying, "You were a partisan and now you're afraid of flying?.

It was morning April 23. The little plane crashed from the side of a mountain and there were no survivors.

Kaczerginski Shmerke lived her life with singing, fellowship, excitement, creativity, commitment and struggle and he sang in the language of the streets of his impoverished Vilnius. He had the words, melody and the people's trust, that's why his songs were popular.

He came from a village, lived with the village people and he forgot himself among the people. He remained young in the ghetto, in the woods, in every mortal danger, in every disappointment. And when he, the epitome of youth was gone, it extinguished the last spark of that youth.

Shmerke was 45 years old. Now, his friends, those who survive, are old.

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