forest Sonata for Cello and Piano–
Mir zaynen do!
Laurence Sherr

• New work for concerts, recitals, and Holocaust remembrance events
• Music of resistance and survival – based on partisan, ghetto, and concentration camp songs
• Commissioned by an international consortium of cellists
• International and regional premieres starting in January 2015
• 3 movements, 24 minutes
Premiere performance video, includes 3 source songs

Jewish partisan music group in Belorussia, 1943.
Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Benjamin (Miedzyrzecki) Meed.

2015 Performances
Karen Becker, cello and Jay Mauchley, piano
"Favored and Forbidden" – Faculty Recital
Performance includes 3 source songs
University of Nebraska
Lincoln, NE
January 15, 2015
Sherr interview–WNET (44:41–52:24)
Performance (sonata starts 18:50)

Education and outreach events by Dr. Sherr:
• "Suppressed Music and Art during the Nazi Era," Harris Center for Judaic Studies Guest Lecture, 1/14/15
"Music at Auschwitz: Aid to Survival or Dehumanizing Degradation?,"School of Music Convocation, 1/15/15
• "Favored and Forbidden," recital commentary
“An Introduction to Klezmer and Gypsy Music, and their influence on Western Classical Music," The Jewish Federation of Lincoln, 1/18/15

Charae Kreuger, cello and Robert Henry, piano
Faculty Recital
Kennesaw State University
Atlanta, GA
January 26, 2015

• "Source Material and Holocaust Remembrance in Sonata for Cello and Piano–Mir zaynen do!," recital commentary
CK Charae Kreuger, cello and Robert Henry, piano
"Music of Resistance and Survival: A Holocaust Remembrance Concert"
The Temple
Atlanta, GA
March 23, 2015
morning performance for students – Music and Theatrical Scenes, includes 3 source songs
evening public performance – Concert, Speakers, and Exhibits includes 4 source songs
Sherr interview 1–WABE
Sherr interview 2–GPB
Preview article (pg. 25)

Karen Becker, cello and Jay Mauchley, piano
Faculty Recital
Red Lodge Music Festival
Red Lodge, MT
June 6, 2015

Charae Kreuger, cello and Robert Henry, piano
Summit: “Remembering: International Struggle for Civil and Human Rights”
Evening presentation includes lecture by Laurence Sherr and 3 source songs
Kennesaw State University
Atlanta, GA
October 28, 2015

Petr Nouzovsky, cello
Bente Kahan, Yiddish songs
Kristallnacht concerts
Prague, Czech Republic, location TBA, November 3, 2015
White Stork Synagogue, Wroclaw, Poland, November 5, 2015

Commissioning Consortium–Cellists
  1. Nicola Baroni, "Claudio Monteverdi" Conservatory, Bolzano, Italy
  2. Karen Becker, University of Nebraska, Lincoln Symphony Orchestra Principal, Lincoln, NE, USA, Performer Representative
  3. Katherine Hebley, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, New Zealand
  4. Parry Karp, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Pro Arte Quartet, Madison, WI, USA
  5. Charae Krueger, Kennesaw State University, Atlanta Opera and Atlanta Ballet Orchestra Principal, Atlanta, GA, USA
  6. Inbal Megiddo, New Zealand School of Music, Wellington, New Zealand
  7. Thalia Moore, Earplay, San Francisco Opera and Ballet Orchestras, San Francisco, CA, USA
  8. Petr Nouzovský, performing and recording artist, Prague, Czech Republic
  9. Dennis Parker, Lousiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, USA
  10. Martina Rühmkorff, Cordi Con Brio ensemble, Dietzenbach, Germany
  11. Michal Schmidt, University of Pennsylvania, Haverford and Swarthmore Colleges, Philadelphia, PA, USA
  12. Adiel Shmit, performing artist, Haifa, Israel
  13. Theresa Villani, performing and recording artist, Tampa, FL, USA
  14. Anna Wróbel, performing and recording artist, Warsaw, Poland

Program Notes

The creation and singing of songs was an important and widespread activity among persecuted groups during the Holocaust. The songs served a wide range of purposes: expressing inner feelings, encouraging resilience and resistance, establishing identity, strengthening faith and courage, lamenting loss and current circumstances, and longing for earlier and better times, among many others. My sonata includes four songs that originated in ghettos, concentration camps, or among the partisans. Mir zaynen do! (We Are Here!), the subtitle of my work, is a refrain in one of these songs: Zog nit keynmol az du geyst dem letstn veg (Never Say You Are Walking the Last Road). Partisan poet Hirsh Glik penned this emblematic Yiddish phrase as the concluding refrain in Zog nit keynmol; it is a phrase that signified identity, resistance, and survival, and that has been used similarly in numerous titles and initiatives since then.

The sonata-form first movement uses the song Yid, du partizaner (Jew, You Partisan) as the first theme. Vilna ghetto and partisan activist Shmerke Kaczerginski wrote the emboldening Yiddish lyrics to an existing melody that he likely heard in the partisan forests. Kaczerginski was a tireless advocate whose collecting of Holocaust songs is most well known through his post-war publication Lider fun di getos un lagern (Songs from the Ghettos and Camps). Three of the songs in the sonata appear in this collection.

The second movement draws upon the work of two Jewish musicians–like in the other movements, these sources are integrated with newly composed material. The first source is Kel (El) mole rachamim, a Jewish prayer for the souls of the deceased as sung by Cantor Sholom Katz. Katz recounted that his life was spared when he sang this prayer just before a mass execution during the Holocaust; he later added words to the prayer lamenting the murder of the Jews of Europe in extermination camps such as Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Treblinka. The cello ‘intones’ transcribed excerpts from Katz’s singing as the movement unfolds. The second source is the comforting lullaby Wiegala that Czech poet and writer Ilse Weber created while a prisoner in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The lullaby gradually emerges near the end of the movement. 

Zog nit keynmol is the basis for the theme and eight variations in the third movement. Vilna poet Hirsh Glik used a film melody by Soviet-Jewish composers Dmitri and Daniel Pokrass to create this song after hearing about the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising and other Jewish resistance. Glik’s lyrics convey defiant hope in the face of adversity, and the song quickly spread across Yiddish-speaking Europe. In my variation movement, the final variation features the piano continuing with Zog nit keynmol while the cello simultaneously plays the song Yugnt himn (Youth Hymn). Yugnt himn is a 1943 motivational song for the Vilna ghetto youth club that Kaczerginski created by writing lyrics to music that Vilna resident Basye Rubin had composed before the war. Both of these songs show the remarkable resilience in Vilna, where only about 4–5% of the Jewish population survived the Holocaust.

Each of the creators of the songs used in the sonata has a compelling story. Their songs provide illumination of their lives and circumstances, allow us to gain perspective on lost and forbidden voices, and help us to understand the unprecedented tragedy of the Holocaust. By creating a new composition drawing on the work of these creators, it is my hope that performers and audiences will connect with their stories, and that the legacy of their cultural contributions will be strengthened and remembered.


Sonata for Cello and Piano–Mir zaynen do! is dedicated to my father, Saul Sherr (1925–2012). Born Szolim Szereszewski in the Polish shtetl of Szczuczyn, he was a Yiddish speaker whose love of cantorial singing and Jewish music influenced me in ways I am still coming to realize.

Song and Creator
Song Lyrics and Prayer Text


Yid, du partizaner (Jew, You Partisan)

Shmerke Kaczerginski (1908–1954) had numerous opportunities to become familiar with Russian popular song melodies–from 1939–41, when the Soviets entered parts of Poland, and when, after fleeing with other Jewish partisans just before the 1943 Nazi liquidation of the Vilna ghetto, he eventually joined a Soviet partisan unit in the Lithuanian-Belorussian forests. For his fellow Jews in that unit, he created Yid, du partizaner by writing new lyrics to a Russian song he had likely encountered in the forests. The lyrics speak of survival and revenge, and indeed, Kaczerginski participated in the liberation of his home city of Vilna in 1944. Immediately after the war, he worked assiduously to collect songs of the ghettos, camps, and partisans. These were published in a number of collections, most notably his comprehensive anthology Lider fun di getos un lagern. He was also active as a prominent writer and lecturer, but his work was cut short when he perished in a plane crash in South America in 1954.


Fun di getos tfise-vent –
In di velder fraye,
Anshtot kaytn oyf di hent
Ch'halt a biks a nayem.
Oyf di oyfgabes mayn fraynt
Kusht mir haldz un aktsl,
Mitn biks ch’bin nit fun haynt
Fest tsunoyfgevaksn.

Veynik zanen mir in tsol,
Drayste vi milyonen,
Raysen mir oyf barg un tol
Brikn, eshalonen.
Der fashist fartsitert vert,
Veyst nit vu fun vanen –
Shturmen vi fun unter erd, –

S'vort “nikome” hot a zin
Ven mit blut farshraybst im,
Far dem heylikn bagin
Firn mir di shtraytn
Neyn, mir veln keynmol zayn
Letste mohikaner,
S’brengt der nacht – di zunenshayn,
Der yid, der partizaner.

From the ghetto prison walls –
In the free forests,
Instead of chains on our hands
I hold a new gun.
On the exercises my friend
Kisses my neck and shoulders,
With the gun I haven't just today
Sturdily grown up.

We lack something in numbers.
Boldness we have of millions,
In hill and valley we destroy
Bridges, troop trains.
The fascist becomes shaky,
Doesn't know where or when –
A storm arises from under the earth –

The word "revenge” has a meaning
When it is written in blood,
Before the blessed dawn
We lead the battles
No, we will never be
The last of the Mohicans,
The night will bring – the sunshine,
The Jew – the partisan.


Kel (El) mole rachamim

Cantor Sholom Katz (1915–1982) was recognized as a gifted singer at a young age. After studying voice in Budapest and Vienna, he became Chief Cantor in Kishinev, Bessarabia, just before the war. In 1942, prior to being shot with a group of several thousand other Jews, he requested permission to sing. His moving vocal interpretation of Kel mole rachamim, a traditional Jewish prayer for mercy for the souls of the deceased, led the Nazi commandant to spare his life. Katz subsequently survived concentration camp internment, and after the war, continued to sing Kel mole rachamim. He chanted the prayer at prominent international remembrance ceremonies, and added new prayer text that describes Jewish suffering during the Holocaust and names several of the infamous camps. His singing and his story were so compelling that I transcribed several essential excerpts from one of his Kel mole rachamim recordings for use in the second movement of my cello sonata.

  Italics indicate the text corresponding to the passages transcribed for the sonata
(these passages form a condensed version of the prayer).

Kel mole rachamim shochen bam’romim,
hamtze m’nucho n’chono tachas kan’fe hash’chino,
bema'alos, k’doshim,
k’doshim ut’horim,
k’zohar horoki m’irim
es nishmos achenu b'ne yisroel
 hak’doshim v’hat’horim,
shenoflu lif’ne horotz’chim
v’nishp’chu domom
b'Auschwitz, Maidanek, Treblinka
uvish'or machanos hash’mom b’Europa,
shenehergu, shenehergu, v’nisr’fu, shenisr’fu,

v’nishch’tu v’nikb’ruchayim b’chol misos m’shunos v'achzo riyos
al, al k’dushas hashem

Baavur sheanachnu b’nehem, uv’nosehem,
achehem v'achosehem
nodrim tz’doko b'ad hazkoras
 b’gan eden, b’gan eden t'he m’nuchosom.

Lochen baal horachamim yastirem b’seser k’nofov l'olomim,

V’yitzror bitz’ror hachayim, es nishmosom,

Adonai hu nachalosom, v’yonuchu v’sholom al mishkovom,

v’nomar omen.

O God, full of compassion, Who dwells on high,
grant perfect rest under the wings of Your Divine Presence,
in the exalted sphere of the holy and pure who shine as the brightness of the firmament,
for the souls of our brethren, the children of Israel,
the holy and pure,
who fell before their slaughterers,
and whose blood overflowed
in Auschwitz, Maidanek, Treblinka,
and all other extermination camps throughout Europe,
who were murdered and cremated, slaughtered and buried alive,
in every form of ghastly and cruel deaths,
for the consecration of His Name.

In behalf of the charity which we, their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, contribute in their memory,
may their resting place be in the Garden of Eden Paradise.

May the Master of Compassion therefore shelter them in the shadow of His wings forever, and bind their souls in the bond of eternal life.

The Lord is their heritage. May they rest in peace,
and let us say: Amen.



Ilse Weber (1903–1944) worked as a children’s author and radio producer in pre-war Prague, where she was also active as a singer who played lute, guitar, mandolin, and balalaika. In 1942, she was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp along with her husband and one of her sons. She continued to write poetry and songs, and sang the songs for other prisoners. Her songs ranged from I Wander through Theresienstadt, which bore witness to camp life, to the lullaby Wiegala, which provided solace and comfort in lieu of the medicine that was not available in the children’s infirmary where she worked. Her husband Willi was deported to Auschwitz in 1944; she and her son followed soon after, and were gassed on arrival. Willi survived, and recovered her creative work he had buried before his deportation. Her Theresienstadt poems are collected in the volume Inside These Walls, Sorrow Lives.


Wiegala, wiegala, weier,
der Wind spielt auf der Leier.
Er spielt so süß im grünen Ried,
die Nachtigall, die singt ihr Lied.
Wiegala, wiegala, weier,
der Wind spielt auf der Leier.

Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
der Mond ist die Lanterne,
er steht am dunklen Himmelszelt
und schaut hernieder auf die Welt.
Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
der Mond ist die Lanterne.

Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
wie ist die Welt so stille!
Es stört kein Laut die süße Ruh,
schlaf, mein Kindchen, schlaf auch du.
Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
wie ist die Welt so stille!

Wiegala, wiegala, weier,
The wind plays on the lyre.
It plays so sweetly in the green reeds.
The nightingale sings its song.
Wiegala, wiegala, weier,
The wind plays on the lyre.

Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
the moon is a lantern.
It stands in the darkened firmament
and gazes down on the world.
Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
the moon is a lantern.

Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
how silent is the world!
No sound disturbs the lovely peace.
Sleep, my little child, sleep too.
Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
how silent is the world!


Zog nit keynmol

Hirsh Glik (1922–1944) was a young poet and Zionist youth organization member at the time of the 1941 Nazi occupation of Vilna. As an original member of the Jewish underground resistance organization FPO (Fareynigte Partizaner Organizatsye), he was particularly active in the cultural life of the ghetto. In the spring of 1943, in response to news of the Warsaw ghetto uprising and Jewish partisan armed resistance near Vilna, he penned new lyrics to a march melody by the Soviet-Jewish composers Dmitri and Daniel Pokrass. His uplifting lyrics conveyed defiant optimism despite adversity, especially with the Yiddish phrase that ends the first and final verses: “Mir zaynen do!” (We are here!). The song was soon adopted as the FPO hymn, and had spread across much of Europe by the end of World War II. Captured when the Vilna ghetto was liquidated, Glik continued to create poetry in several concentration camps. He escaped in 1944, but perished in a battle against the Germans.


Zog nit keynmol as du geyst dem letsten veg,
Chotsh himlen blayene farshtelen bloye teg;
Kumen vet noch undzer oysgebenkte sho,
S’vet a poyk ton undzer trot – mir zaynen do!

Fun grinem palmen-land biz vayten land fun shney,
Mir kumen on mit undzer peyn, mit undzer vey,
Un vu gefaln s’iz shprits fun undzer blut,
Shprotsn vet dort undzer gevoro undzer mut.

S’vet di morgn-zun bagildn unz dem haynt,
Und der nechtn vet farshvindn mitn faynt,
Nor oyb farzamen vet di sun und der kayor –
Vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tzu dor.

Dos lid geshriben iz mit blut un nit mit blay,
S’iz nit keyn lidl fun a foygl oyf der fray,
Do hot a folk tsvishn falndike vent
Dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent.

To zog nit keynmol as du geyst dem letsten veg,
Chotsh himlen blayene farshtelen bloye teg.
Kumen vet noch undzer oysgebenkte sho –
Svet a poyk ton undzer trot – mir zaynen do!

Never say you are walking the last road,
Despite leaden skies obscuring blue days:
The hour we have longed for will come,
Our step will beat like a drum – we are here!

From green palm-lands to distant land of snow,
We are advancing with all our pain, with our woe,
And where a spurt of our blood has fallen,
Will our heroes and our courage spring up.

The morning sun will gild our todays,
And our yesterdays will disappear with our enemies,
But if the sun and the dawn are late in coming –
This song should go like a password through generations.

This song is written with blood and not with lead, 
It's not a song from a bird flying free,
Here a people between collapsing walls
Sang this song with pistols in their hands.

So never say you are walking the last road, 
Even if lead skies obscure blue days.
Our longed-for hour will still come –
Our step will beat like a drum – we are here!


Yugnt himn

In 1943, Kaczerginski combined a number of his pursuits, including those as a folklorist, songwriter, political activist, collector, and educator, when he created Yungt himn, a new song dedicated to the Vilna ghetto youth club. Along with other partisans, Kaczerginski served there as a mentor and organizer of cultural events. At the meetings, communal singing was a crucial activity for stimulating group identity, zeal, and courage, and perhaps encouraged the youth to participate in the resistance. Set to pre-war music by Vilna resident Basye Rubin, the lyrics of Yungt himn exhort energetic group devotedness, youthfulness, and “boldness” for people of all ages. The club embraced the song, singing it at all meetings during the following few months while it was still in existence.

Undzer lid iz ful mit troyer, –
Drayst iz undzer munter-gang,
Chotsh der soyne vacht baym toyer, –
Shturemt yugent mit gezang:

   Yung iz yeder, yeder, yeder ver es vil nor,
   Yorn hobn keyn batayt,
   Alte kenen, kenen. kenen oych zayn kinder
   Fun a naye fraye tsayt.

Ver es voglt um oyf vegn,
Ver mit drayskayt s'shtelt zayn fus,
Brengt di yugnt zey antkegn
Funem geto a gerus.

Mir gedenken ale sonim,
Mir gedenken ale fraynt,
Eybik veln mir dermonen,
Undzer nechtn mitn haynt.

Kloybn mir tsunoyf di glider,
Vider shtoln mir di rey.
Geyt a boyer, geyt a shmider, –
Lomir ale geyn mit zey!

Our song is full of solidarity, –
Bold is our hearty-walk,
Although the enemy guards us from the gates, –
Youth thunders with song:

   Anyone who wishes can be young,
   Years have no meaning,
   Old ones can, can, can be children
   Of a new free time.

Anyone who wanders on the roads,
Who with boldness takes a stand,
The youth will meet them
With a greeting from the ghetto.

We remember all our enemies,
We remember all our friends,
We will always remind ourselves
Our yesterdays with our todays.

Together we collect ourselves,
Again we steel our ranks.
Goes a builder, goes an artisan, –
Let us all go with them!

Sources – Online Recordings

Yid, du partizaner
Adrienne Cooper, singer.

Kel (El) mole rachamim
Sholom Katz, cantor, and Dr. L Vachulka, organ, 1946 recording.

Many versions are available online.

Zog nit keynmol
Betty Segal, accompanied by Akiva Daykhes. Recorded for the Jewish Historical Commission, Munich, 1946.

Yugnt himn
Shmerke Kaczerginski singing without accompaniment.


Melodies for the songs Yid, du partizaner, Zog nit keynmol az du geyst dem letstn veg, and Yugnt himn appear in the collection Lider fun di getos un lagern, Shmerke Kaczerginski and H. Leivick, editors, published by CYCO, New York, 1948. Used by permission.

The Yiddish and English lyrics for these same three songs are from the collection Songs Never Silenced, Velvel Pasternak, editor and arranger, with Yiddish translations by Lawrence Berson, published by Tara Publications, 2003. Used by permission.

Kel mole rachamim by Sholom Katz appears as no. 368G, pp. 1338–1342, in The Musical Traditions of the Eastern European Synagogue, Volume Two, Part Three, Sholom Kalib, editor and compiler, published by Syracuse University Press, First Edition, 2005. Excerpts from the music, and the Hebrew prayer text, are used by permission.

The English translation of the Sholom Katz version of Kel mole rachamim is courtesy of Dr. Sholom Kalib.

Additional Yiddish and Hebrew translations by Alfred and Tosia Schneider.

The process of identifying owners of the source material and seeking permissions is still in progress. Further acknowledgments will be added once they are available.
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