The Spiritual Heroism of the Jews in the Holocaust

The Spiritual Heroism of the Jews in the Holocaust

Itzhak Katznelson (1886-1944) was an accomplished dramatist, poet, and teacher. While living in the Warsaw Ghetto, he wrote over 40 works, including “The Song of the Radzyn Rebbe,” (1942-1943), which emphasizes the Jews’ spiritual heroism in the face of suffering and death at the hands of the Nazis. Below is an excerpt from Part I of the poem. To read the entire “Song of the Radzyn Rebbe” and to see the original Yiddish manuscript click here.

Song of the Radzyner
Dedicated to my Hana

by Yizkhok Katzenelson

Part I


I want to sing you a hero song
Oh, don’t laugh at me brothers
and don’t wonder how a Jew
comes to sing songs of heroes?
Hero-songs… yes, like this!
So why are you afraid?
Are hero’s songs only for Gentiles ?
Only they have the right…
Gentiles…theirs is the victory!
They, only they are the heroes!
They kill in war
and destroy whole worlds.
So this will be hard for me,
because a Jew has in long years
not carried a weapon…
He wears spurless boots,
He brandishes no sword,
He does not learn to shoot.
And clean are his hands and pure is his heart
and clear, clear is his conscience
And if a Jew must shed blood
it is his, his own.
So I sing you the song of a hero
of a very different kind.