Kadya Molodowsky: Letters from the Ghetto (From Yiddish)

Kadya Molodowsky, was born in Bereza Kartuskaya (in what is today Belarus) in 1893. Her learned father, who taught Hebrew at a Jewish boys' elementary school, was rather unusual for his time in that he seems to have strongly believed in the necessity not only of educating women, but of educating them well. She was therefore taught both traditional Jewish subjects (including the Hebrew language- most unusual for a woman of her time and station) by her father and various secular subjects (as well as the Russian language) by tutors hired by said father. As a young woman she lived lived in Warsaw, where she taught in Yiddish-medium schools and worked at a day-home for displaced Jewish children, as well as Odessa, Sherpetz, Bialystok and elsewhere. In 1917 after the Russian Revolution, she found herself stuck in Kiev, unable to return home. There, she worked as a tutor and in a home for Jewish children displaced by pogroms. She survived the Kiev pogroms of 1919, and afterward, began publishing verse. In 1935, she made the best decision an East European Jew could possibly have made that decade, and left Europe for the US, settling in NYC. During WWII she wrote much about the tragedy befalling Jews back home, including her brother and other family still trapped in Poland (the poem included here, written in 1941, dates from this period.) In 1948, she moved to Tel Aviv for four years before returning to the US. She also spent a good deal of her life struggling against the literary invisibility of working-class Jewish women, encouraging young Yiddish-speaking women to write, and was at some odds with the traditional notions of femininity prescribed by male-dominated shtetl society. She died in a nursing home in Philadelphia in 1974. 

Letters from the Ghetto
Kadya Molodowsky
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Your brief letters:
Three lines on a card, no more- from far
away as if each mile had added a stone.
That is how heavy they are. 

A line on everybody's health, 
mentioning each by name. No worries,
there isn't anything to fear.
And the white blankness begs on the paper for mercy.
That's how it probably is, the script of tears. 

These brief letters 
are gathered all unto me,
They shall remain until the end of generations.
I see the quivering hand that writes them 
now in horror's cursive,
I know the fiery Hand
that shall inscribe the blankness with mercy. 

The Original:

בריוו פֿון געטאָ
קאַדיע מאָלאָדאָװסקי

אײַערע קורצע בריוו
דרײַ שורות אויף א קאַרטל, ניט מער.
ווי יעדע מײַל וואָלט צוגעלייגט אַ שטיין– 
אַזוי זײַנען זיי שווער.

אַ שורה וועגן אַלעמענס געזונט,
בײַם נאָמען יעדערן דערמאָנט,
מען זאָל ניט דאַרפֿן איבערקלערן,
און רחמים בעט דער ווײַסער בלויז אויפֿן פּאַפּיר,
אַזוי מסתמא איז דער כתֿבֿ פֿון טרערן.

די קורצע בריוו– 
זיי ליגן בײַ מיר אַלע אויפֿגעקליבן,
ביז סוף פֿון דורות וועלן זיי פֿאַרבלײַבן.
איך זע די ציטעריקע  האַנט, וואָס שרײַבט זיי איצט,
איך ווייס די פײַערדיקע האַנט,
וואָס וועט מיט רחמים דעם בלויז דערשרײַבן.


  1. Whenever I see movies that take place in 1920s/30s Europe, even if they're happy (Hugo!), I just keep yelling at the characters to get out of there! Your happy ending isn't happy for long!

  2. Yeah, when I watched "Fiddler On The Roof" I was like,....Oh if you guys think you have problems now, just wait. Or better yet, hightail it to another country. Run, Tevye! Run!

  3. Clarissa AykroydMay 24, 2012 at 6:21 AM

    Beautiful. Thanks


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