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Miryam (Miriam) Ulinover: Translations of Yiddish Holocaust Poems

Miryam Ulinover (1888-1944) was born in Poland to a Jewish family, as Miryam (Mania) Hirshbeyn, in either 1888 or 1890, depending on the source. Her parents, Shimen Hirshbeyn and Sheyndl, née Gerzon, were divorced in 1905. As a child Miryam spent time with her grandfather Shaye Gerzon, a Talmudic scholar, in the little town of Krzepice in Poland, near Czestochowa. It may have been a meeting with Sholem Aleichem (1859–1916) that encouraged her to write. As a girl she wrote prose in Polish, German and Russian. In 1912 she married Volf Ulinover, a merchant from a Hasidic family. They had two daughters, Dine-Rokhl and Hinde-Makhle. Miryam went on to write poetry in Yiddish and was published in a number of magazines and anthologies. She also published a book of poems, Der bobes oytser (Grandmother’s Treasure, Warsaw 1922). Ulinover created the “literary folk poem,” featuring a shtetl grandmother in dialogue with her modern granddaughter. Kathryn Hellerstein suggests that Ulinover probably influenced the better-known Itsik Manger, whose biblical poems re-imagined the patriarchs and matriarchs as small-town characters. However, World War II and the Holocaust interrupted Ulinover's promising literary career. In August 1944 she and her family were deported to Auschwitz; she perished in the gas chamber a few days later, along with her daughter and granddaughter. None of her later manuscripts were ever found.



Girl Without Soap
by Miryam Ulinover
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

As I sat so desolate,
threadbare with poverty,
the inspiration came to me
to make a song of my need!

My blouse is heavy with worries,
so now it's time to wash:
the weave’s become dull yellow
close to my breast.

It wrings my brain with old worries
and presses it down like a canker.
If only some kind storekeeper
would give me detergent on credit!

But no, he did not give it!
Instead, he was stiffer than starch!
Despite my dark, beautiful eyes
he remained aloof and arch.

I am estranged from fresh white wash;
my laundry’s gone gray with old dirt;
but my body still longs to sing the song
of a clean and fresh white shirt.



Meydl on Kam
Girl Without Comb

by Miryam Ullinover
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The note preceding the poem:
“Sitting where the night makes its nest
are my songs like boarders, awaiting flight's quests."


The teeth of the comb are broken
A comb is necessary―more necessary than bread.
O, who will come to comb my braid,
or empty the gray space occupying my head?

Note: the second verse of "Meydl on Kam" is mostly unreadable and the last two lines are missing.

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