Courtesy: The Record (music news from NPR)

In August 1945, as World War II was drawing to a close, a 10-year-old Jewish orphan named Valya Roytlender sang a song called “My Mother’s Grave” to a Soviet ethnomusicologist in Bratslav, Ukraine. “Oh mama, who will wake me up?” the boy sang, in Yiddish, to the tune of a traditional Jewish folk song. “Oh mama, who will tuck me in at night?”

Around the same time, in Kazakhstan, a Soviet republic in central Asia to which many Polish and Ukrainian Jews fled during the war, another ethnomusicologist from the same team transcribed the lyrics to another, this time from an unknown singer. The sarcastically titled “Purim Gifts for Hitler,” named after a holiday celebrating the Jews’ survival of Haman’s attempt to massacre them in biblical times, struck a more defiant tone. “You’re not my first enemy; before you I’ve had many others,” the lyrics went. “Your bleary end will be on Haman’s tree, while the Jewish people live on and on.”

These songs, along with hundreds of others, were collected for an archive of lyrics by amateur Jewish authors in the Soviet Union during World War II and documented by a team of researchers from the Cabinet of Jewish Culture from the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, which operated under the auspices of the Soviet government. They describe the Jewish wartime experience, telling tales not just of Holocaust survivors but of Jewish soldiers in the Red Army, women working in factories on the home front and Polish refugees building new lives in far-flung corners of the Soviet empire.

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