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Video Archives: Sara Gvinter

Sara Gvinter

Sara Gvinter

born in Bershad , 1930


Sara Gvinter was born in 1930 in Bershad. She is a niece of the violinist David Oistrakh. Her father, who died when she was young, was a carpenter, and her mother was a cook. During the Second World War, she was imprisoned in the Bershad ghetto and the Pechera con- centration camp. She was shot by the Germans during a mass shooting outside Pechera, but survived and pulled herself out of a mass grave. She worked for the partisans briefly in the Bershad region. She returned to Bershad after the war, married, and worked as a seamstress.

Current Video: Let It Be Enough!

Sara Gvinter survived the Pechera concentration camp by literally crawling out of a mass grave. The Pechera camp was situated on a cliff overlooking the Southern Bug River in Romanian-controlled Transnistria. The other side of the river was part of Reichskommissariat Ukraine, under the direct control of the Germans.

In this clip, she remembers when in 1943 a German punitive brigade crossed the river and massacred a group of Jews. She was among those shot and left for dead in a mass grave.

She remembers one family from Chernivtsi (Czernowitz), whose members were all shot in the grave with her. The memory of one young child, in particular, continued to haunt her the rest of her life. In this clip, she recalls a song that the child's father used to sing.

The song itself is derived from another Yiddish song from Bessarabia and Bukovina that laments the anti-Jewish atrocities committed by Ukrainian brigands during the 1919-1921 pogroms.

The song, Eykho, likely entered Transnistria with the deportees, and was reworked to refer to Nazi atrocities. Thus, Gvinter learned it from Max, the deportee from Chernivtsi.

In the earlier version, the singer alludes to Eicha, the biblical Lamentations, and includes the same refrain, begging the heavens to "cast a glance" and "let it be enough" as well as several lines from the verses, including "little children taken from their mother's breast" who are "thrown in the rubbish," and "elderly Jews with gray bears," who are "thrown to the ground."

The crucial difference between the two versions, though, is that the biblical references have been dropped. Gvinter does not associate her song with Eicha, most likely because the biblical book had no resonance for her, if indeed she had ever heard of it: she no longer lives in a world in which daily events are measured in accordance with biblical precedents and archetypes.

Other versions of the song that were recorded in Polish ghettos during the Second World War also include verses about holy books being torn to pieces and synagogues turned into stables, both of which are excised from Gvinter's variant. By the time Nazi atrocities began in Pechera, the holy books had already been forgotten and many of the synagogues had already been reallocated, if not to horses, then to communists.

Afn yidishn beys-oylem iz a shreklekher vint,
Dort lign di yidn azoy vi di hint.
Funem himl a blik,
Af di idelekh gib a kik,

Leshn shoyn op dos fayer,
Un loz shoyn zayn genig!

Vey adonoy, Farvos shlogt undz der nyemets azoy?
Lesh shoyn op dos fayer,
Un loz shoyn zayn genig!

Altitshke yidn mit di grove berd,
Me hakt zey, me brakt zey,me varft zey tsu der erd.
Funem himl a blik,

Af dayne yidelekh gib a kik,
Lesh shoyn op dos fayer,
Un loz shoyn zayn genig.

Kleyntshike kinder fun der muters brist,
Me hakt zey, me brokt zey, me varft zey afn mist.

In a Jewish cemetery there is a terrible wind,
There the Jews lie like dogs.
From the heavens take a look,
Cast a glance at the little Jews:

Blow out the fire already,
And let it be enough!

Oh God, Why do the Germans beat us like this?
Blow out the fire,
And let it be done!

Elderly Jews with gray beards,
They hack them, they break them, they throw them to the ground.
From the heavens take a look,
Cast a glance at your little Jews:

Blow out the fire already,
And let it be enough!

Little children taken from their mothers' breasts,
They hack them, they break them, they throw them in the rubbish.

Gvinter sung another version of this song for us in 2005.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)