Monday, April 19, 2021, marks the 78th anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, a heroic act of Jewish resistance in Nazi-occupied Poland (and the single largest revolt by Jews against the Nazis in World War II) to rebel against the remaining Ghetto population being transported to the death camps of Treblinka and Majdanek. Though doomed – the Uprising ended on May 16, with the Nazis’ block-by-block burning of the Ghetto, resulting in the murders of 13,000 Jews (6,000 by being burned alive or suffocated by smoke inhalation) – it remains one of history’s most noble examples of bravery, resilience of spirit, and defiance of man’s inhumanity to man.
To commemorate the momentous event, two of NYC’s leading organizations for Jewish arts and heritage – National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF) and Congress for Jewish Culture (CJC) – are presenting online offerings with worldwide outreach.
On Sunday, April 18, NYTF will stream a reading of The Bird of the Ghetto (Der Foygl fun Geto) as the inaugural virtual production in its Yiddish Women Playwrights Festival, curated by NYTF Literary Manager Sabina Brukner. The only play written by Chava Rosenfarb (one of the greatest post-war Yiddish poets and writers, who had been deported to Auschwitz, then Sasel, and finally Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated), the NYTF presentation will be performed for the first time in Yiddish (the language in which it was written), after having been done in English and in Hebrew in Rosenbarb’s lifetime.
Based on a true story, the work – scheduled by NYTF to coincide with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – chronicles another significant Jewish resistance movement, the attempted Vilna Ghetto Uprising and the tragic sacrifice of leader Itsik Vitenberg, commander of the United Partisan Organization (FPO). Appearing in the production, with direction by Suzanne Toren, translation by Goldie Morgentaler, and videography and editing by Motl Didner, are Didner, Rachel Botchan, Rebecca Brudner, Spencer Chandler, Kirk Geritano, Avi Hoffman, Maya Jacobson, Lea Kalisch, Rebecca Keren, Avram Mlotek, Lauren Schaffel, Dylan Seders Hoffman, Tatiana Wechsler, Hy Wolfe, Mikhl Yashinsky, and Daniel Kahn, who will perform a song in tribute to Vitenberg’s bravery.
The Bird of The Ghetto premieres Sunday, April 18, 2:00 pm, and remains available through 2 pm, Thursday, April 22, on the NYTF website. The reading is a benefit for the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Viewing is free, but donations to NYTF will support the work of Selfhelp’s Holocaust Survivor Program.
Every year on April 19, the Congress for Jewish Culture has organized a gathering of musicians, academics, survivors, and their families at the stone in the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial Plaza in Riverside Park on the Upper West Side, to observe the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held online for the first time, as it will be again this year.
An international array of artists has been assembled virtually to remember the victims of the Nazi war on European Jewry and to commemorate their resistance. The upcoming program, including music and readings, will feature Rivka Augenfeld (Montreal), Hinde Ena Burstin (Melbourne), Shura Lipovsky (Amsterdam), David Rosenberg (London), Annette Harchik (Editor of Response: A Contemporary Jewish Review), Feygele Jacobs (Yiddish singer), Samuel Kassow (renowned historian and author of Who Will Write Our History?), Marcel Kshensky (educator and son of Holocaust survivors), Lili Kshensky Baxter (Director Emeritus of the Weinberg Center for Holocaust Education at Atlanta’s Breman Museum), Shifee Losacco (Yiddish singer and fundraiser), Deborah Strauss (longtime member of the Klezmer Conservatory Band), and the Workers Circle Shule students.
Among the highlights of the digital event are Daniel Kahn (Perchik in the hit Yiddish language revival of Fiddler on the Roof, currently residing in Hamburg) singing “Hulyet, hulyet, beyze vintn” (“Blow, Blow, Angry Winds”), a song by Avrom Reisen (one of the founders of the CJC), adopted in the ghettos during the Holocaust; international singer-guitarist Maida Feingold performing “Shtil di nakht” (“Quiet, the Night is Full of Stars”), written by Hirsh Glik (a young poet in the Vilner ghetto, who was murdered by the Nazis, but whose songs are remembered in the Yiddish community); and Mir Kumen On Yiddish Choir of the Jewish Labour Bund Melbourne singing both Hirsh Glik’s “Partizaner Himen” (“Partisans’ Hymn”) and “Di Shuve” (“The Oath”) by S. Anski (author of The Dybbuk).
The 78th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising will stream for free on Monday, April 19, at 1 pm, on the Congress for Jewish Culture’s YouTube channel and website. Voluntary donations in support of the secular NYC-based non-profit organization’s mission and programming are welcome.