Rare Yiddish songs to make their world premiere in Toronto tonight

A selection of Yiddish songs written by Soviet Jews during the Second World War thought lost to history will be performed in Toronto Wednesday night for the first time in nearly 70 years.

U of T professor says songs represent "real voice of people" living through WW II

Toronto singer Sophie Milman is one of four Torontonians who will be performing at Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of Life and Fate at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts tonight.

A selection of Yiddish songs written by Soviet Jews during the Second World War thought lost to history will be performed in Toronto Wednesday night for the first time in nearly 70 years.

The songs of survival, heartbreak and resistance, dating back to 1947, were discovered by archivists in the manuscript department of the Ukrainian National Library and will make their world premiere at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.

Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of Life and Fate will be performed by an ensemble featuring four Torontonians — jazz singer Sophie Milman, trumpeter David Buchbinder, Alexander Sevastian, who is widely considered one of the world's greatest accordionists, and acclaimed clarinetist Shalom Bard.
Trumpeter David Buchbinder will be part of an ensemble performing newly discovered Yiddish songs dating back to 1947 at a concert Wednesday night.

Anna Shternshis, a professor of Yiddish and Diaspora Studies at the University of Toronto, said it's "a scholar's dream to see these songs transcend the ivory tower.

"This is great stuff, it is too good to just keep to the scholars," she added. "It is so genuine because it is the real voice of people during that time."

  Shternshis said the songs provide listeners and historians with some unique insights.

Revenge against Germans

"First of all, they have this major theme of revenge against the Germans, (there's) a lot of mention of violence and talk of guns," she said. "Back then, the thought of a Jewish person with a gun was a novelty."

Interestingly, many songs "are unapologetically supportive of Stalin, although that opinion probably changed in latter years," Shternshis said.

  She explained how the documents ended up at the Ukrainian National Library.

Scholars collected the material in the 40s, she said, but the documents were confiscated after they were arrested.

"After the scholars were released, they thought the pieces were gone for good. They never even told the people around them about the collection," Shternshis said. "No one knows how they got from the secret police to the library so they created a registry of them and let them lie there."

Sophie Milman says the songs resonate with her since they're "essentially the story of my grandparents."

  The Juno Award-winning jazz singer, who was born in Soviet Russia, recalled seeing one of her grandfathers crying over a photo one day. She says it was an image of a mass grave where his family had been executed.

"There were family members who fought the Germans, who died, who survived, who moved countries," Milman said. "Even if you are a generation removed, you are not removed from the stories of that experience."


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