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Samson Först, "Der Grager"

Först, Samson pamphlet 1947
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Written by Samson Först in 1947, this satirical brochure focuses on the experiences of Romanian Jews deported to the Black Sea border region of Transnistria during World War II. Jews deported to Transnistria spoke a number of different languages. Some considered themselves culturally German while others conducted their daily affairs in Yiddish or Romanian. For example, a young Romanian Jewish girl named Mirjam Korber wrote her wartime diary in Romanian, while this pamphlet combines Yiddish with Romanian-language words and writing.1 Like many other authors, Först uses the Jewish purimspiel custom to respond to tragedy through satire and black humor.2 Först's pamphlet fits within this tradition, as does Horst Rotholz's "Purim Song" and Bodo Morgenstern's activist poem, "Hitler's Dream."

The examples featured here reflect the satirical tone of traditional purimspiels as well as the specific circumstances of Romanian Jews during the Holocaust. The first piece celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany with dark humor, but the poem describes ritual humiliation and forced labor in stark terms. The poem uses many Hebrew expressions, giving the reader the impression of an "insider" vocabulary meant to speak to fellow Jews who had also faced such persecution.

For more information about the Holocaust in Romania, see Radu Ioanid, The Holocaust in Romania: The Destruction of Jews and Gypsies under the Antonescu Regime, 1940-1944 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000).

From Yiddish, meaning literally "Purim play," a play, skit, or monologue performed on the holiday of Purim, often retelling the Book of Esther to humorous effect. 

"Der Grager" means "the rattle" in Yiddish and refers to the noise-making device traditionally used at Purim whenever Haman's name is spoken.

There is no reference to a specific camp the author refers.

The first day of the month of Adar, which, in 1947, corresponded to February 21.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was a famous Indian poet who was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. Several of his books were translated into Yiddish and were very popular, thus he would have been familiar to the readers of "Der Grager."

King of Persia as noted in the Book of Esther. King Ahasuerus married Esther (Hadassah) and begins the narrative of the Purim story.

"Ester-hamalku," literally, "Esther the Queen," this phrase is an honorific that refers to Esther's role as the savior of the Jewish people in the Purim narrative.

Literally, "Mordechai the Wise," this phrase is an honorific that refers to Mordechai’s role as Esther’s uncle, guardian, and counsel whose refusal to bow down to Haman inflames his anger towards the Jewish people.

Hebrew and Yiddish for the Garden of Eden, also meaning Paradise or Heaven. 

Meaning the dress of a pious Jew.

Titus, Emperor of Rome (39-81 CE) who raided and conquered the city of Jerusalem, and is responsible for the sacking of the Holy Temple in 70 CE.

Biblical enemy of the Jewish people.

Nero, Emperor of Rome (37-68 CE) commonly held responsible for the burning of Rome in 64 CE.

Karl Lueger (1844-1910), Austrian politician, mayor of Vienna, and leader of the antisemitic Austrian Christian Social Party.

Vladimir Purishkevich (1870-1920), antisemitic Russian politician in the years prior to the Bolshevik Revolution.

Symon Petliura (1879-1926), Ukrainian nationalist and politician known for his antisemitic views.

Corneliu Zelea Codreanu (1899-1938), leader and founder of the Romanian Iron Guard, a nationalist, antisemitic local fascist party that briefly staged a coup in 1941.

Ion Antonescu (1882-1946) was the authoritarian leader of Romanian during World War II who perpetrated his own version of anti-Jewish laws, actions, pogroms, and killings.

Literally, the heavenly house of justice.

 Referring to Gabriel, the archangel, who serves as the messenger of God.

Triangular cookie eaten on Purim, the name means "Haman's pockets" or "Haman’s purse."

A double-six pointed star, to represent the yellow star Jews were made to wear by the Nazis.

A reference to the upper class, particularly pointed in the French, which remained the language of the educated upper middle class in Romania and particularly in Bucharest where the poem likely takes place.

Plural of the term “gabe,” which refers to a specific position of leadership within a given Jewish religious community.  The gabe is usually responsible for leading and assisting the weekly Torah service.

Plural of the term "shames," this also refers to a position of synagogue leadership, usually responsible for the physical maintenance of the synagogue building.

Judges in a rabbinic court.

Romanian for Jew.

A reference to Russian aristocracy.

Cantors.

A common graduation hymn, the direct translation of the Latin is: "Let us rejoice."

Literally "pioneers," but referring specifically to Jewish youth movements advocating for settlement in Palestine.

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Samson Först, The Grager,1 Written in the Camp:

For Purim, a brochure
Full of satire
On Hitler’s carcass
And all his great strength
Published in Bucharest, 1947

The Grager wishes our friends Mr. Uri Benador and Mr. Cristian a happy Purim

For the Purim holiday, a brochure
With nothing but satire
For Jews glad tidings:
On Hitler’s carcass
And his great strength,
It’s the GRAGER
From inside a former camp2

[…] 

 

A Great Purim Sensation

How Haman had an audience with God.

According to the latest radio reports on Rosh Khodesh Adar,3 the following Purim sensation is reported specially for our Purim Grager:

"We draw the attention of our Grager readers to the fact that everyone ought to read this article attentively and ought not to think that this is simply a fabricated Purim tale to entertain the folk a bit during Purim season.

Two weeks before Purim, a grandson of the famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore,4 the famous fakir and spiritualist Ordmulz Tagos, came from India to Schischam-Haborn. As soon as he checked in to the Karmalecho hotel, he discovered a waiter who was a great medium. When the local spiritualists became aware of this medium, the Spiritualist Association invited him to a séance. And here we present every word the spirit of Haman the Evil said to the medium:

"Spiritualists, my friends, you ought to know the spirit that speaks to you from the other world is I, the renowned Haman the Evil, the former prime minister of the historic King Ahasuerus,5 who lives together with his beloved wife Queen Esther6 and her dear uncle, the tsaddik Mordecai7 in Gan Eydn.8  I can only tell you that all three are healthy and living a princely life and prospering, thanks be to God, and may it be said of every Jew, let us all say amen. Perhaps you'd like to ask me when I, the renowned Haman, suddenly turned into a tsaddik in a fur coat9 who wishes Jews well. Have a bit of patience and I'll tell you how my hellish life was transformed after so many years of broiling and baking in hell thanks to the Hitleriade with its fascist Hamans who are now in hell and are occupying all the sections until more chambers can be built. We, the old Haman prisoner-villains, like Titus,10 Pare, Bilem,11 Bulok, Nero,12 and from modern times Lueger,13 Purishkevich,14 Krujewan, Petlura,15 Codreanu,16 Totu, Cuza, Goga, Antonescu,17 etc., etc., whose names the devil may know. But as soon as I rested a little from such a long period of torment in hell and recovered a bit, I got up several weeks ago and went to my friend Mordecai and asked him to urge the Beit Din Shel Maalah18 to grant me an audience because I had a brand new Purim project. Mordecai received me in a very friendly manner and explained to me he was very pleased that after such a long time I hadn’t forgotten that a nation of Israel exists. And after so much hell. I even wanted to present a project to God to expand and beautify their Purim. It didn't take long to convince Mordecai, and he left with me for Gan Eydn Street and introduced me to the king that stands before the gate of the Beit Din Shel Maalah with his fiery sword. Mordecai displayed his business card, we were immediately led into a corridor full of diamonds. The king there, Gavril,19 instructed us to sit on two diamond chairs, demanded for us a roll of parchment, and asked us to write down what sort of a request we had. After a few minutes, we were led into a large chamber where a council of kings and tsaddiks sat. One of the kings said to me in a very friendly tone:

"Do not fear, my child, and say what you request." And I introduced myself: I am Haman and I suffered for so many years in the hellish camp for nothing, only because one Purim I got drunk and had an incident with our friend Mordecai—here he stands before you, heavenly lords! Let him say it. Did I even touch him with my hand? It's only because I felt insulted as minister when my friend Mordecai saw me on my way to the royal court and didn’t greet me. And this is why I gave the order that all the Jews from throughout the country should leave for Eretz Israel. And what the consequences were, o my lords, you certainly read in the Book of Esther, and how I suffered a bitter defeat. And thanks to my defeat, the Jews got a holiday, our dear, beloved Purim. And every year when the Jews read the Book of Esther and when my name Haman is mentioned, I really hear it from the Jews, partly with gragers, partly by tapping feet, and my head becomes so confused that I don't know what sort of world it is I'm on. And this is indeed why I want to ask God to forgive me my sins against his people Israel. I now want to convert to Judaism and to change my name from Haman the Evil to Haman HaZadik, and the entire Book of Esther starting with the current Purim should be changed to the Book of Hitler, and instead of Hamantaschen20 with three points, Hitlertaschen with 12 points should be made,21 and Purim should not be in the middle of Adar but rather on the day the Red Army strolled into Berlin and destroyed Hitler, the Haman of the world, together with his SS bandits. And now we all have a happy Purim.

Your grateful friend,

Haman HaZadik

 

The Song

Why the Jews would shovel snow for Antonescu

 

We stride toward the promenade
With shovels toward the snow
Engineers, lawyers
Journalists, writers
Pharmacists, professors
The directors of banks
The entire haute volée22
No matter how clever they are,
All are going to shovel snow
 
Old Jews and young
Even in the middle of Purim
The gaboim,23 the shamosim24
All equal before God
Craftsmen and rebbes
Carpenters, coopers with dayonim25
They’re all called "evreu"26
They march straight ahead
All are going to shovel snow.
 
The magnates, the "boyars"27
For 15 days, everyone must push on
Cleaning the streets of snow
Because baksheesh is no good here
The blind, the lame, invalids
All are just Jews
Pleas for help don't work
Who would hear them,
All are going to shovel snow
 
All the big factory owners,
Travelers, suppliers
Senators, representatives
Zionists, delegates
Shoemakers, tailors and hazzanim28
As close as inlaws
They march straight ahead
Little Jews two by two
All are going to shovel snow
 
All the community presidents
Together with the Jewish students
All the books have been put away
They come from every direction
Dressed in old rags
Shovels upon their shoulders
There on the boulevard
You can hear them singing
"Gaudeamus"29 deep in the snow
 
The more we brush and sweep
The snow just doesn't want to stop
It whips and howls in the storm
East, west, north, south
The streetcars don't move an inch
Cars can't get through
You often hear the shout
"Hey, Jew, look here
Quick, shovel the snow away"
 
It's already been forgotten
How to pass the winter evenings
In the Jewish salons
To dance to the gramophone
Waltzes and gavottes,
Polkas, tangos along with foxtrots
And to speak "en français"
Je vous prie, Monsieur
Today the shovels dance in the snow
 
Ach, and there our halutzim30
Rows upon rows of the young
The misfortunate ones of course also must
Run and clear the snow
They go clothed in patched tatters
And their poor bodies freeze
And in the night sipping tea
Hungry, they sing
The ditty of shoveling snow
 
The black crows in the trees
They cackle and crow
They praise God for making it snow
Night after night they rejoice
They revel in the snow
Like we do with marmalade
Oh, they don't feel
How it hurts us
We who have to shovel the snow!

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
RG Number 10.521
Accession Number 2010.343
Date Created
1947
Page(s) 5
Author / Creator
Först, Samson
Language(s)
Yiddish
Location
Bucharest, Romania
Document Type Pamphlet
How to Cite Museum Materials