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Semyon Vaisblai

Semyon Vaisblai

born in Chemerivtsi , 1930


Semyon Vaisblai was born in 1930 in Chemerivtsi. His father worked as a cap-maker and his mother, who died when he was seven years old, was a homemaker. He had a sister and a brother. His brother died under occupation, and his sister served in the Red Army during the war. He attended a Yiddish school for four years. During the war, he was imprisoned in the Kamyanets-Podolskyy ghetto. He escaped the ghetto and, when he reached Chemerivtsi, he became the servant of a German soldier. He was then imprisoned in the Smotrich ghetto, before being sent back to the ghetto in Kamyanets-Podolskyy. The remaining time of the war, he spent on the kolkhoz in Dubinka. After the war, he worked various jobs, such as supplier and shop assistant. He worked as an administrator in the Khmelnytskyy's synagogue in for many years.

Current Video: Oy vey tsu mayne yorn (Woe to my years)

"Semyon Vaisblai was born in 1930 in Chemerivtsi. His father was a cap-maker and his mother a housewife. There was a synagogue in the Vaisblai home, because the father, a pious man, was crippled during a pogrom and thus could not leave the house to attend services elsewhere. In his childhood, Vaisblai studied both with a religious teacher and at a Soviet Yiddish school. Vaisblai spent the war running from town to town and eventually ended up working at a kolkhoz (collective farm), posing as a non-Jew. After the war, he returned briefly to his hometown but then had to wander once again in search of work.

AHEYM interviewed Vaisblai in Khmelnytsky, Ukraine, in 2009. He sang a number of songs for the interviewers, some of which he learned before the war from his father, and others that he learned after the war from demobilized Jewish soldiers. In this clip, he sings a song about poverty that he learned from a tailor who lived with his family. Vaisblai relates how the tailor used to drink cologne instead of whiskey; this was a fairly common practice in the Soviet Union -- when conventional alcoholic beverages where not available or could not be afforded, some people would drink anything with alcoholic content, including cologne.

A version of this song was also collected by ethnomusicologist Ruth Rubin and can be found in the volume Yiddish Folksongs from the Ruth Rubin Archive, edited by Eleanor Mlotek and Mark Slobin (Wayne State University Press, 2007), pp. 145-146. Vaisblai's version is quite a bit shorter, and while the lyrics differ slightly, the meaning is the same. Versions of the song have also been collected by Y. L. Cahan in Yidishe folkslider mit melodyes (1957), and by Moyshe Beregovski and Itsik Fefer in Yidishe folkslider (1938).

I get up at six o'clock,

My head hurts.

I'm about to pass out,

I want a glass of tea.

Oh woe, woe is to my years.

Why did I have to leave home?

I say to the landlady,

""Make me some dumplings, please.""

She fumbles around,

So that her eyes almost pop out.

Oh woe, woe is to my years

Why did I have to leave home?

The landlady says,

""Eat and be satisfied!""

In her heart, she thinks

That I eat like a soldier.

Oh woe, woe is to my years

Why did I have to leave home?"