Compilations containing classic songs from World War II are, sadly, a dime a dozen in today’s music industry. From the Glenn Miller Band’s ‘In The Mood’ and ‘American Patrol’ to Anne Shelton’s ‘Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer’ to Irving Berlin’s ‘This Is The Army Mr. Jones’ and more, the songs that got Americans through the war are plentiful to say the least. What about the songs that got other groups and nations through the stresses and misery of World War II? Those recordings are much less prevalent here in the states. This past February though, Six Degrees Records finally released one of those rarities in the form of Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II, giving audiences a brand new glimpse into some very rare songs composed by Russian Jews during the war. This new 18-song compilation is an absolute must have for any WWII history buff just as much as it is for World music aficionados and history buffs in general. Not only that, but it is also simply an important historical artifact of sorts from that era. That is due in no small part to the history behind the songs. This will be discussed shortly. The songs themselves obviously cannot be ignored, so they will be discussed later. The record’s sequencing rounds out the most important of its elements. When it is considered along with the songs and the history behind them, the whole of these elements makes Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II a decidedly significant musical find that music historians, WWII history buffs and history lovers in general will appreciate.
Six Degrees Records’ new musical history presentation Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II is one of the most significant historical musical collections to be released to the masses in a very long time. It is a collection that music historians, WWII history buffs and history lovers in general will appreciate. That is due in no small part to the history behind the album and its songs. The songs were originally composed by Jews across Europe including Russian Jews who were forced into the Russian Army, refugees and survivors of the Ukranian ghetto. Work on the collection started during WWII when ethnomusicologist Moiei Beregovsky led a group of scholars in an effort to preserve the noted songs. The group was arrested after the war during Lenin’s anti-Jewish purge, and its collective work confiscated. Fast forward to the early 2000s, when University of Toronto Professor Anna Shternshis visited Kiev and discovered the group’s research had survived its confiscation decades earlier. After many more years of work with artist Psoy Korolenko and Producer Dan Rosenberg, this album was finally finished, and its once lost songs finally returned to their original glory with new performers to bring them back to life. Considering that this is the first time that these songs have been released to the masses since their initial creation so many decades ago, it really makes hearing them something special, even considering that they were resurrected by new performers. That story makes taking in this compilation that much more enjoyable and even moving. Keeping this in mind, the story of the album’s creation, while it forms a solid foundation for the album, is only one of its key elements. The songs themselves are just as important to note as the story behind their resurrection.
The songs that make up the body of Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II are key to its presentation because of the subject matter and emotion within each work and even more so because of their messages. Those messages are warnings against fascism, making it clearly relevant in today’s society. As Shternshis noted in a discussion about the songs, “The songs come to us from people, whose perspectives are rarely heard in reconstructing history, none of them professional poets or musicians, but all at the center of the most important historical event of the 20th century, and making sense of it through music.” Two of the songs outright attack Hitler and his actions through its words. Those songs are ‘Misha Tears Apart Hitler’s Germany’ and ‘Purim Gifts For Hitler.’ That latter of the pair makes reference to the Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates the Jews’ escape from Haman’s planned massacre. This is not a World War II reference, but rather a reference to a much older incident from Jewish history. Understanding the history behind Purim and the celebrations therein, one is led to believe that the song was meant as a sort of lyrical thumbing of the nose to Hitler since, just like Hanan, Hitler wanted to wipe out the Jews. The songs addressing Hitler and his atrocities are not the album’s only important additions. ‘Kazakhstan’ seems to be a musical and lyrical love letter to another Jew’s homeland. The almost mournful tone of the song (both through the arrangement and the vocal delivery) creates such a deep, emotional impact here. The same can be said of the arrangement and delivery of ‘My Mother’s Grave,’ which one is left to assume was written by the orphan noted in the album’s companion booklet. Of course, for all of the more deeply emotional pieces on the negative end, there are also more celebratory songs, including the fittingly-titled ‘Victory Song,’ ‘Haman’s Defeat,’ and ‘Happy New Year 1944.’ Their positive vibes are just as powerful as the depth of emotion in the more melancholy works, and fittingly they are saved for the album’s final section. That placement plays into the last of the album’s most important elements – its sequencing.
The sequencing of Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II is important to discuss because it shows a seemingly intentionally set timeline. That timeline opens with the laid back ‘On High Mountain.’ The album’s mood clearly changes in each song as the album progresses, eventually coming full circle from the pain of the Nazi occupation and the connected atrocities to their freedom from that suffering in the final three songs. That emotional journey on which the album takes listeners will move some to tears both of joy and sadness even without translation of the lyrics. By the end of the story presented through these songs, listeners will agree that they have experienced something very special. It is a musical journey but a journey into another age told so powerfully through music. When the power in that journey is joined with the power in this compilation’s history and the songs themselves, the whole of those elements makes this collection more than just another musical compilation. Rather, it makes the record an important overall story from WWII that deserved and needed to be told, even being told through a group of stories. It is a collection that music historians, WWII history buffs, and students and lovers of history in general must have in their music libraries. It is easily one of this year’s top new albums overall, keeping all of this in mind.
Six Degrees Records’ recently released musical history presentation Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II is one of the most important presentations that has come along in years for students and lovers of history, WWII history and music history. It is a presentation that each of those noted audiences should have in his or her own music library. That is due in part to the history behind the compilation, which is deep in itself. The songs and their own stories couples with that history and joins with the obviously well-thought-out sequencing to make the album in whole an unforgettable recording that will hopefully lead to even more music being discovered in the years to come. It is available now in stores and online. More information on this and other titles from Six Degrees Records is available online now at:
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