Daniel Singer

New Holocaust Song: Children Sing Again in the Land of Rain

I wrote and recorded with my sons a new song that addresses the ugly and painful issue of Holocaust distortion, Children Sing Again in the Land of Rain, inspired by genealogical revelations of late.

Since recently discovering my Singer ancestry in Birzai, Lithuania I have been deeply inspired by the stories of so many remarkable newfound cousins who share a deep passion for preserving the memories of their ancestors who were murdered in Lithuania like the dozens in my grandfather’s family who remained behind.

In particular, the story of my cousins Grant Gochin and Michael Kretzmer, the three of us blood brothers of Birzai. Grant and Michael have created a heart wrenching documentary film, J’accuse, that is blazing through film festivals across the globe winning many dozens of awards.

The film features Silvia Foti, author of Storm in the Land of Rain, a righteous gentile who I think is deserving of a medal of bravery for revealing the truth about her grandfather, Jonas Norieka, who like dozens of other “freedom fighters” are today lauded as national heroes despite the clear evidence that they all had very willingly and happily participated in the mass genocide that murdered 95% of the Jewish population of Lithuania, including countless relatives of ours.

This important film and the many testimonials that Grant Gochin has published has opened my eyes to the unfathomable atrocities that my great aunts, uncles and cousins in Lithuania succumbed to in the most gruesome and successful Holocaust of Europe, undoubtedly due to the fact that so many native Lithuanians joyously participated in these very public murders.

Inspired by the music of the two most famous songwriters ever who are fellow Litvaks, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, I wrote for this Holocaust Memorial Day, “Children Sing Again in the Land of Rain.” Since I sing bass, I intentionally emulate Cohen’s vocal style, but I also borrow some of Dylan’s cryptic songwriting style.

Since I’m clearly not a famous songwriter or anywhere on the level of Dylan or Cohen, and this is my first stab at doing anything like this, I am going to explain my songwriting.

“The Storm” refers to Jonas Noreika, “His Mother” who is hammering sickles against the “crimson sky” refer to Russia. The fight for Lithuanian independence is in the backdrop of the Holocaust with people like Jonas accusing Jews of being too successful in business and urging Lithuanians not to do business with us, but simultaneously accusing us of being sympathetic to the communism of Russia. In the end none of this matters more than the killing of Jews, which doesn’t seem to require a rationale.

The “bloods of our brothers” is a biblical reference to the murder of Abel and the text referring not only to his blood but the bloods of all of his descendants. When a Lithuanian murdered just one Jew, they murdered all of their unborn offspring as well.

The claim made by Lithuania to defend Noreika’s innocence is that he had made the order to send Jews into the ghetto to save them from “The Reign” of the Nazis. It is clearly absurd and a “hypocrisy of shame.”

In the second verse, “You and Us” refers again to Jonas, which is pronounced You-nus in Lithuanian. “No Rake A” spells out his last name.

The third verse describes the photo of the children of “Plunge” who were murdered by this decree and which serves as the cover photo for the film. It turns out that the young teacher actually survived the Holocaust and lived out the rest of her life in Israel. Her daughter contacted Michael Kretzmer and he wrote an incredible story about it in Times of Israel.

The fourth verse describes the Table of Truth part of Silvia’s story. This is the chess table that was carried down in her family that she insisted upon returning to the Jewish family that had originally owned it. Her grandfather had taken over one of the Jewish homes nearest the synagogue, where he must have known and overheard the torture of the many Jews that they had corralled and locked inside the synagogue. The table was returned to a descendant of the family, but they agreed to donate it to a local Jewish museum and to serve as a means to educate children on the Holocaust.

The Garage in this verse refers to the area of Kovno/Kaunas where there was a notorious public gathering to enjoy witnessing the murder of over 60 Jews in the public square. This is not part of Silvia’s story, but I hoped to give an idea of the sheer scale of this. This massacre was happening all over Lithuania.

I intentionally included a photo of Juozas Krikštaponis and his monument in sequence with Bob Dylan since Ukmerge/Vilkomir was where Bob Dylan’s mother’s family all had come from before immigrating to my hometown, Superior, Wisconsin.

The fifth verse describes Jonas’ bright blue eyes, which Foti believes is part of what attracted Lithuania to promote him as such a national hero. It’s also referencing the song by The Who, “Behind the Blue Eyes,” which is close, but doesn’t quite describe Jonas since the villain they describe wasn’t actually wishing to do anything wrong and was made out to be a very sympathetic character.

“Ten thousands lay contorted etched upon our burning scrolls.” I describe each murdered Jew of Lithuania as a letter in one of the many Torah scrolls that they had burned. The “heavy earth above us…” is a shocking image that stuck with me when hearing the descriptions of people being able to see and hear the earth moving with people who had been buried alive and remained there in the massive piles of corpses for weeks.

The sixth verse begins with John Lennon’s song, “Imagine all the people,” a song that I enjoy but that truly bothers me. The “no religion” part, especially when I hear it integrated into a Bar Mitzvah montage, is clearly ironic. But the “no religion” of communist Russia combined with the aforementioned Lithuanian contradiction of accusations doesn’t make this song appealing to me.

But it inspired me to imagine all the people who we might have never known had their families, like mine, Grant’s, and Michael’s, not gotten out of Lithuania before it was too late. This includes quite an impressive list of musicians. I add a list of other notable Litvaks to the video to help visualize that the murder of just one Jew can result in the loss of an entire world of significant people.

“Sad faces” is something Grant and Michael refer to a lot this time of year. Seeing the Lithuanian government putting on their sad faces while simultaneously remaining deaf and mute to the calls from so many people to just come clean about their history and stop distorting their Holocaust.

The “Neighborhood Bully” refers again to Bob Dylan’s incredible song about Israel and the Jewish people. The Lithuanian government continues to erect many monuments and name buildings and streets to honor these murderers, which is clearly very disturbing for anyone who follows it.

“Iron Wolf” refers to the revered mascot of Vilnus, a legendary and mythical figure that also bears many monuments, but one that is clearly in sheep’s clothes as they are not showing their true colors as Holocaust distortionists.

“History’s Stopped” and the “well of words to the wise” refers to George Orwell’s novel 1984, which describes a society where all the history is distorted and forged and “nothing exists but except the endless present in which the party is always right.”

“Who is Silvia” in the last verse clearly refers directly to Foti, but it’s also a Shakespearean quote, from Two Gentlemen from Verona. It later says “Then to Silvia let us sing,” and it felt very apropos. Instead of having a suitor, she has blessings from Grant, who is her partner in revealing the truth.

“Children sing again” is a particularly powerful image for me and it is why I included my sons in the recording. I felt it was important for my sons to know this family history regardless of its dark and macabre nature. It was memorable and powerful for them to be able to offer their voices for these children who cannot sing anymore.

The last of the 613 commandments that we find in the Torah is the one commanding us to write a Torah. “And you shall write this Song and teach it to the Nations.”

We need to continually write new songs to help our future generations understand and remain connected to Torah and to their past, even if it requires singing truth to pain.

About the Author
Daniel Singer is the cantor of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on New York City’s Upper West Side. Drawing on a wide-ranging knowledge of Jewish music, Cantor Singer is as comfortable singing an 18th-century classical liturgical repertoire or leading the congregation in traditional Hasidic or Sephardic melodies as he is performing Jewish pop acapella with SIX13 or singing roles with the Yiddish Theater or opera.
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