Among the sea of signs, pink hats, and protesters that flooded the streets of New York City at Saturday’s Women’s March was one standout: A bright red banner with hand-lettered lyrics from a Yiddish resistance song saying, in Yiddish and in English, “We will outlive them.”
The song quoted on the (slightly misspelled) banner has a dark history. In 1939, a group of Hasidic Jews from the Polish city of Lublin were backed up against barbed wire and ordered to sing to their own execution. One of the men began: “Lomir zich iberbetn, iberbetn, iberbetn” – “Let us reconcile…” But nobody joined him.
Then he improvised: “Mir veln zey iberlebn, iberlebn, iberlebn” – “We will outlive them.” An eyewitness at the scene reported: “Instantly the song took hold among the entire people, until it catapulted [them] into a stormy and feverish dance.” The commander at first laughed, historian Moshe Prager writes, but then “he realized they weren’t accommodating him; they were defeating him. He ordered them to stop.” But they continued. Even when the SS troops charged at them, swinging whips and clubs.
Hannah Temple (pictured, left), one of the NYC activists who made the banner along with Raphael Mishler and Jenny Romaine, found the story in a collection of Yiddish songs.
“It’s part of our year-round work of making Jewish culture politically relevant and remixing it, using it not nostalgically, but for what we need it to do.”
Photo by Jake Ratner