Yankele Hershkowitz (Herszkowicz)

Folk singer & entertainer in the Lodz ghetto

Yankele Hershkowitz, a tailor by trade, was a popular street performer in the Lodz ghetto. He composed and performed satirical songs pertaining to major events and to figures of the ghetto. While not much is known about Yankele Hershkowitz’s personal life, his musical contribution to the cultural life of the Lodz ghetto has been recounted by many survivors. His original compositions are detailed in several entries of the Lodz ghetto Chronicle.

For a time, he was accompanied by Karol Rosensweig, an amateur violinist and traveling salesman from Vienna. Hershkowitz was one of the only street musicians that earned enough money to survive. The Lodz Chronicle entry from December 5, 1941 reports that Hershkowitz and Rosensweig earned up to six marks a day, which was considered “a tidy wage indeed.” One of Hershkowitz's greatest hits was the song, “Rumkowski Chaim,” a mocking critique of the ghetto’s Elder (Judenälteste). Hershkowitz composed another popular song about Chaim Rumkowiski entitled, “Long live Chairman Chaim.” Hershkowitz also wrote many songs about the harsh living conditions in the ghetto; for example, “S’iz kaydankes kaytn (It’s Shackles and Chains),” deals with the level of theft in the ghetto.

Hershkowitz was deported to Auschwitz in the summer of 1944 and then transferred to a labor camp in Braunschweig, Germany where he was liberated in May of 1945. After the war, he returned to Lodz, where he became active in the cultural affairs of the city’s Jewish community. Hershkowitz was deeply saddened by the mass immigration of Polish Jews following the anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic purges that began in 1968. Hershkowitz was unwilling to leave Poland, and on March 25, 1972 at the age of 61, ended his own life. 

Watch a segment from the documentary, "Song of the Lodz Ghetto," which tells the story of the Lodz ghetto through the life and music of Yankele Hershkowitz.