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Horst Rotholz, "Purim Song"

Rotholz, Horst song 1941
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The poem presented here was recorded by sixteen-year-old Ruth Heilbrun (later Ruth Windmüller) at a children’s home in southern France run by the Jewish relief agency, Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE). Significant numbers of German Jewish children arrived in France following the violence of Kristallnacht.1 By November 1941, nine homes responsible for 1,200 children operated in the "Free Zone" in Vichy France. Ruth's family had arrived in France after fleeing Nazi Germany on the St. Louis, and she was placed in the OSE's network of children's homes. Her parents lived in the surrounding region, and the family managed to immigrate to the United States in 1941. Ruth's notebook records various celebrations and events held at the OSE children's homes, including Purim songs from three fellow refugee children. 

Horst Rotholz, the seventeen-year-old author of the featured poem, used the occasion of Purim to poke fun at the futility of attempted emigration. It was an experience many of his fellow refugee children knew well, and the references in the poem reveal a deep sense of displacement underneath the lighthearted tone. Rotholz's poem follows an anonymous couple through several frustrating scenarios, including selling off furniture they could have kept, waiting five years for a visa they cannot afford, and obtaining a useless affidavit with no number for entry into the United States. 

The celebration of Purim must have provided the children with an uplifting contrast to the refugee experience. The holiday celebrates the triumph over Haman, who sought to destroy the entire Jewish community of Persia in the 6th century BCE. By the end of the story, Haman is put to death and the Jews remain peacefully in exile. To celebrate Purim, children traditionally dress up in costumes and perform plays called purimspiels. Many Jewish writers during the Holocaust used Purim as a symbol of hope, resistance, and survival.

The obstacles to emigration cited by Horst in his poem proved fatal for him and his family. Vichy authorities deported them to the Drancy transit camp in northeast Paris. From Drancy, the family was deported to their deaths at Auschwitz.

Renee Poznanski, Jews in France during World War II (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2001), 140–143.

Each of these locales represents a possible immigration destination (some real, others fanciful).

Yiddish for "family" [spelled in German].

A reference to Jewish and non-Jewish religiously-based aid groups.

Literally, "make a holiday"; meaning, ironically, "good luck with that."

Yiddish for "money."

Reference to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an aid organization for refugees.

Yiddish for "crazy."

Yiddish, meaning "donkey" or more pejoratively, "ass."

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PURIM SONG

(recited by Horst Rotholz)

Listen, you dear people,
Purim, that means happiness.
Purim, that means eating cake,
And not forgetting Haman. 
This saying from childhood days,
No longer applies today.
That was yesterday, what will tomorrow bring?
These are our present worries.
Visa, affidavit, consulate,
Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic,
Bolivia, Haiti, Paraguay, Alexandria,
Palestine or Rhodesia,
Australia, Shanghai, South Africa,
And the last hope is the U.S.A.1
What are we doing here, there we can laugh.
No mishpokhe, says the wife.
But think again now, long and hard;
That's right, your late mother’s brother,
Uncle Wolf, that lousy so-and-so.
Back then, you know, he had to go, now why was that?
Because of some bad deal, to the U.S.A. 
The whole mishpokhe2 were beside themselves.
And now that I think about it, I do recall,
That Uncle Salomon during the night 
Took him secretly to a ship in Hamburg.
He has grown-up sons, who are rich,
So sit down and write them straight away.
Tell them how we're doing, and that we have no relatives,
Ask if the mother’s still alive, the old aunt,
And then one morning you'll be cheering: Hooray,
Wife, come inside, the affidavit is here.
This is just the start, now the real misery begins.
You've got an affidavit, but no number.
You go to Stuttgart, show your papers,
And finally end up at a "benevolent society."3
You must wait five years, that's no exaggeration.
What's going on there defies all description.
You come home exhausted, and what do you bring?
A questionnaire, makh yontef4 with that.
Now you have an affidavit
And still you sit at home;
Your only thought is how to get out.
You're supposed to wait five years, that's clear,
By living frugally, you'll have the mezumen5 for two.
Now you start all over again with Argentina,
Visiting German or American lines. 
Are you going to New York, Tel Aviv, or Florida,
To Colombia, Chile, Yokohama. 
Will you cross the border in a legal or illegal way,
Or wait for the next Joint conference.6
Are you going to an intermediate country, who'll give you the currency for that?
Your wife is sitting there, while you sit here.
Who knows all these countries?
You’re getting all confused.
The places you want to go are mostly inaccessible.
You get all meshugge,7 run around like obsessed,
Go to Ms. Ehrmann and take English lessons.
You're completely honest, don't need to lie,
Learning English is no fun either.
Then the wife says, I've had enough, 
I'm getting my household ready for emigration.
The beds are too high, the buffet should be lower,
Or else it won’t fit in the rooms in America.
You don't need an armoire, take an axe to it,
In America the closets are all built in.
Then they write you from over there,
You can hardly believe it,
Telling you to leave all your furniture behind.
So, you advertise, trying to sell,
And an endless number of people come by.
They offer you, though it's hard to believe,
For the most beautiful room: 100 Mark,
And when you've finally sold it all,
They write from over there: just bring the furniture along.
And so it goes, getting worse every day,
For yourself and your family, all you have is one room.
And in this room, admired by all,
There is a couch, the symbol of the century.
The couch, your wife, and the children, the dears:
That's all that is left of your wealth.
You have your wife share the couch, nice and snug,
There you sleep better than you did in your bed.
Contented, you think, enjoying the thought,
They can all go... take a running jump.
Then you fall asleep and can be envied,
You happily dream about the good old days.
But when you awake in the morning, you're aware of the sorrow, 
And once again you're the same old khamer.8 
You pace back and forth, up and down,
It just keeps on, it's becoming too much.
In the morning, at noon, until late in the night,
It's always the same thing that's making you fret.
You ask yourself why, for what reason, how come,
And think you'll never enjoy life again.
Can you, my friends, understand my concern?
The trouble, the trouble, the trouble I'd like to see!

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 2000.187
Date Created
March 12, 1941
Page(s) 7
Language(s)
German
Location
Limoges, France
Reference Location
Château Montintin (historical)
Document Type Song
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