Solving a seventy year old puzzle

Sheet music for the London version of Hashivenu Nazad

Hidden Treasures has helped to solve a seventy year old puzzle – and unearthed a unique recording of a Yiddish song from London’s East End.

Peter Freedman, who now lives in Israel, had made a recording in the 1950s of his grandmother Sarah, who had immigrated from Posnan, Poland to London in 1903 and later went to live in Manchester. She was singing a Yiddish song, accompanied by her children and grandchildren who sang the chorus.

But he had been unable to identify the song until Peter’s great nephew Joel Salmon sent the recording to the Board of Deputies’ archive project Hidden Treasures.

Sheet music for the London version of Hashivenu Nazad

Yiddishist Dr Vivi Lachs, whose book ‘Whitechapel Noise’ examines Jewish immigrant life in Yiddish song and verse in London between 1884 and 1914,  immediately identified the song as Hashiveynu Nazad. She explained that it was a parody of a song by Avrom Goldfaden from his opera The Jewish Faust, and that it had been sung by Yiddish speaking Jews in London at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Dr Lachs said, ’The original song has a Zionist theme suggesting that life for Eastern European Jews would be better in Palestine. The London parody suggests that life for Jewish immigrants in London, where they were poverty-stricken and subject to violent attack, was even worse than their life back in Eastern Europe and that they should return there. The parody is both moving and humorous and mentions local London landmarks such as Goulston Street and Petticoat Lane. It was popular in Britain and beyond and was reproduced in songbooks and songsheets. This is a unique recording – the only one by someone who obviously knew London and the Yiddish spoken there. It’s very exciting to have found it.’

Vivi Lachs own recording of Hashiveynu Nazad can be heard on Klezmer Klub’s CD ‘Whitechapel mayn Vaytshepl’.

Vivi Lachs will discuss this treasure at our Voices from the Archives event on Sunday March 14.