Friday, February 16, 2007

Ven ikh lernen yiddish... different than when I learned French.

By the second year of French, we were studying from this terrible television series. We'd learn the vocabulary used in a particular episode, and the episodes followed a single story line: an American boy goes to study in Paris, and falls for a French girl. Romantic mishaps galore! (Zut alors!) It was lighthearted and annoying and ridiculous, and I learned words like drageur (a guy who picks up a lot of women).

My Yiddish text (published by Uriel Weinreich in 1949, his brother Gabriel teaches Physics here) is also grouped into lessons, but the lessons are different. Lesson 9 is called "an alter briv" - an old letter:

Ayn mol hot Moishe gefunen in der heym an altn briv. Der briv iz geven fun zayn shvesterkinder Hershele vos hot biz der milkhomeh gevoint in Vilne Poilyn. Di Daytshn hobn im umgebrengt in geto. Der briv iz gekumen far der milkhomeh, ven Moishe iz nokh geven a yingl.

One time, Moishe found an old letter in his house. The letter was from his cousin Hershele who lived in Vilna until the war. The Germans murdered him in the ghetto. The letter came before the war, when Moishe was still a boy.

Or, this conversation I had to translate for class today:

Yes, I did not know until now that the Germans used airplanes and poison gas against the ghetto./ How could they use airplanes, the ghetto was small and in Warsaw? /Yes, but the Germans did use tanks and airplanes, and it is said that poison gas was not used in the war, but the Germans used it against the Jews. /I had an uncle and two cousins there, they died in the ghetto./ Did you know that they were there?/ Yes. We wrote to them, but they did not get the letters which we sent them.

Or the song Tsen Brider - Ten Brothers, which was a popular folksong transformed during the war. The refrain was originally: schpilt zhe mir a lidl, oyfn mitn gas! - play me a little song, in the street (outside); and was changed to: her mayn letst lidl, men firt mikh oykh tsum gaz - hear my last song, they're taking me also to the gas.

It makes sense. Ven men hot umgebrengt undzer shprakh, zol mir leyenen zeyn letst briv.