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.
“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