3: Song, A. L. Wolfson and Alexander Olshanetsky's “Vilna, Vilna,” 1935.
To understand the Holocaust, we have to appreciate the Jewish culture that thrived beforehand. Over the course of centuries, the city of Vilna—home of Avrom Sutzkever and the Rom Printing Press—had earned the reputation as “The Jerusalem of Lithuania” thanks to the many Jewish scholars, rabbis, writers, artists, and political thinkers that lived and worked there. The Rom Press, which produced beautiful Hebrew-script books for readers all over Europe, was just one of many Jewish cultural institutions that had flourished in Vilna up until World War II.
This 1935 song, “Vilna, Vilna,” lyrics by A. L. Wolfson (1867–1946) and music by Alexander Olshanetsky (1892–1946) treats the city as if “she” were a person, a lover.
Suggested Activities: Watch and listen to a clip of the song. Ask students: How does the song describe Vilna? What kind of a character is “she”? How does this depiction of Vilna relate to Sutzkever’s poem “The Lead Plates of the Rom Printers”?
Then ask students: Do you have this kind of relationship with a city or a place? Ask students to create a poem or song about a city or place with which they have a special relationship, using “Vilna, Vilna” as loose inspiration.
Sources: Alexander Olshanetsky and A. L. Wolfson, “Vilna, Vilna,” performed by Fraidy Katz on The Eternal Question (Di Alte Kashe): Fraidy Katz sings Yiddish. Kame'a Media, 700261204406, 2006. Accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnAstY693Ik on May 14, 2019.