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Unread 01-16-2021, 09:12 PM
Martin Rocek's Avatar
Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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Location: NY, USA
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Default Karel Švenk: Terezin Anthem

Terezin Anthem (Karel Švenk)[Yes we can]
1. Those whose songs can overcome a thunderstorm,
who had laughter splashed into their crib
For whom crying for no reason is bad form,
who have known love, who have love to give,
everybody whether thus or otherwise,
who is glad, whatever life they have,
they don’t ever frown because they realize
they can sing on everyone’s behalf:
Yes we can if we stand
all together hand in hand,
our hearts full of humor, though the times are brutal,
day to day who can say
when we go or where we stay
and just thirty words are all that we may draft.
Hey ho! In the morning life begins,
the time is coming when
we can pack our little bundles up
and all go home again.
Yes we can if we stand
all together hand in hand
you and I and he and all of us will laugh. (after first and second stanza)
[on the ruins of the ghetto we will laugh.](after third stanza)
Those who miss the mother city, and for whom
coffee with their turnips isn’t grand,
those whose spirits rise up when they hear Czech tunes,
those who slave till they can hardly stand,
everybody whether thus or otherwise,
though not happy this is all they have,
they can always find a way to harmonize
when we sing on everyone’s behalf:
Ref: Yes we can …
Those who live on tier three of a narrow bunk,
whom the shadows of the walls oppress,
those whose wive’s affairs have left them in a funk
all those whom the barrack blues depress,
everybody, those who hope or who despair
even they might catch a sunbeams’s shaft,
tries to walk a little straighter when they hear
Terezin’s march play on their behalf:
Ref: Yes we can …
on the ruins of the ghetto we will laugh.

Terezínská hymna (Karel Švenk)[Všechno Jde]
1. Jarní bouře ozvěnu kdo přehluší,
komu smích byl do kolébky dán,
komu plakat bez příčiny nesluší
kdo zná lásku a je milován.
Každý ať už taký nebo jinačí [onaký]*
zkrátka, kdo je na tom světě rád,
ten se nikdy na nikoho nemračí
vesele si zpívá častokrát:
Všechno jde, když se chce,
za ruce se vezmeme,
na vzdor kruté době humor v srdci máme,
den co den, stále jen
sem a tam se stěhujem
a jen ve třiceti slovech smíme psát.
Hola, zítra život začíná
a tím se blíží čas,
kdy si sbalíme svůj raneček
a půjdem domů zas.
Všechno jde, když se chce
za ruce se vezmeme
já, ty on, my všichni budeme se smát.
[a na troskách ghetta budeme se smát.]**
Kdo po městě nad Vltavou zatouží,
komu tuřín s kávou nestačí,
komu česká píseň duši rozbouří
kdo se jako otrok plahočí.
Každý ať už taký nebo onaký,
zkrátka, kdo tu není příliš rád,
ten si jistě najde důvod nějaký,
aby si moh´s námi zazpívat:
Ref: Všechno jde…
Kdo kavalce třetí patro obývá,
komu vadí temný hradeb stín,
komu žena v Křivoklatě [někde v O.D.] zahýbá***
kdo prožívá kasárenský splín.[spleen]
Každý, ať už věří nebo nedoufá,
že i pro nás bude slunce hřát
ten si ani tentokráte nezoufá,
když slyší marš terezínský hrát:
Ref: Všechno jde…
a na troskách ghetta budeme se smát.
Notes: The text is taken from an original typescript—see below.
*In recorded versions, “onaký” or “onačí” is used instead of “jinačí”.
**The bracketed line is used in the third repetition of the refrain;
however, in recorded versions, the bracketed version is used each time.
***The printed and sung version have “někde v O.D.”, but my father
and his friends (who were in Terezin, see notes below) recall “v Křivoklatě”.

Terezin Anthem (Karel Schwenk)[Everything is possible]The subtitle literally means “everything goes”, but that is not the meaning
1. [S/he] who can drown out the echo of spring’s thunderstorm,
who was given laughter in the cradle,

for whom it is not becoming to cry without reason,

who knows love and is loved.
Everybody whether such or other,
in short, whoever is glad to be on this earth,
they never frown at anybody,

and cheerfully will often sing
Everything is possible if one wants it,
we will hold hands,
in spite of the cruel times we have humor in our hearts,
from day to day we only

move from here to there
and are allowed to write only in thirty words.
Hey, life begins tomorrow

and with it the time approaches,

when we will pack up our little bundles
and go home again.
Everything is possible if one wants it

we will hold hands

I, you, he, we all will laugh.(after the first and second stanza)
[on the ruins of the ghetto we will laugh.] (after the third stanza)
[S/he] who longs for the town on the Vltava river,
for whom turnip with coffee is not enough,
whose soul is moved by a Czech song

who staggers [exhausted] like a slave.
Everybody whether he is such or other,
in short everybody who is not too happy to be here,
will certainly find some reason

to be able to sing with us:
[He] who lives on the third level of the bunk,

who is bothered by the dark shadows of the ramparts
whose wife in Krivoklat [somewhere in O.D.] is unfaithful Some of the prisoners were sent outside the ghetto on work details to Krivoklat; my dad and his friends recall this version of the song; the printed and recorded versions of the song have “somewhere in O.D.”, which doesn’t make sense. “O.D.” was the “Ordnungs Dienst”, a group of older prisoners charged with making sure that people stood in line when food was served, etc.

Who suffers from the barrack blues [spleen]
Everybody whether they believe or gave up hope,
that the sun will shine even for us [warm us]

does not despair even now,

When they hear the Terezin march playing
on the ruins of the ghetto we will laugh.

Karel Švenk was a noted writer, actor, and composer in the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp. This song became the informal camp anthem. See . He was shipped from Terezin to Auschwitz and on then on to the slave labor camp at Meuselwitz, where he shared a bunk with my father. He died on the death march two weeks before the end of the war.

There are a number of recordings of the song online. Two are by a remarkable organization called “Terezínská štafeta”, or “The Terezin Baton”, which tries to keep the memory of Terezin alive, and they are by a high school choir:
There is a recording of just the first stanza and the refrain by a Swedish opera singer named Anne Sophie von Otter:
How she came to do this is a fascinating story in itself—see the remarkable and tragic story of Kurt Gerstein ( and his meeting with her father Göran von Otter (

There is a recording by survivors called: Songs of Karel Švenk king of cabaret of ghetto Terezin / performed by Ghetto survivors; I haven’t found a public online version so far, though I do have a copy. There is also an amateur recording by my 97 year-old dad.
(See the attachment in my reply below).

Original versions of the song (including earlier drafts and notes) can be found in the archives of the Jewish Museum in Prague:

One of the big problems I faced is that I think the last word of the refrain must be "laugh", and there are rhymes with this in both the refrain and in the second half of each verse. The solution I am trying does modify the meaning a bit, but I hope it is true enough to the original spirit.
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Unread 01-17-2021, 01:48 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,890

Martin, I don't know Czech, so I can't be much help, but your comment on the difficulty of finding a rhyme for "laugh" is something I may be able to help with. When I was translating Heine's "Ein Weib" I couldn't find good rhymes for "laugh" so I made it "laugh away," which opened up a lot of rhyme options. I think it is a great thing to try through translation to preserve and spread the writing of someone from the camps. There is something inspiring and heroic about writing done under the worst possible oppressions.

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Unread 01-17-2021, 04:26 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is online now
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 15,244

I couldn't really get a handle on this until I played the music you linked to, and then it came very much alive for me. Oddly, though I don't know a word of Czech, I was able to follow along effortlessly with your lyrics from start to finish and it was very moving and powerful. I don't have a problem with the "laugh" rhyme. I like "behalf" a lot, the idea that they are singing on everyone's behalf. I think that if this were sung to your English lyrics it would work out great.

If you wanted to turn this into more of a poem to be read off the page without a supplied melody, I'm less sure of its effectiveness. For me that's always the case, however, with songs that mean something to me. I've often read lyrics of new songs before hearing them, and the lyrics underwhelmed me, but after getting to know the song the lyrics become powerful and somehow retain their power even when I encounter them later without the music.

But I'm wondering if you might have two versions, one to be used as lyrics if the song is performed in English, and another intended just to be read as a poem. The latter version would perhaps free you to write it more tightly and metrically because you wouldn't be trying to fit it into a melody. You could find your own rhythm that communicates from the written words on the page rather than conforms to the commands of the melody.

Thanks for posting this, as well as the recordings and source material. Is your father's version available as well? I'd love to hear it.
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Unread 01-17-2021, 05:10 PM
Martin Rocek's Avatar
Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: NY, USA
Posts: 4,498

thank you very much for reading and commenting; I actually am fairly content with my solution to the "laugh" rhyme, I just wanted to point out why I deviated from the crib for the corresponding lines in the verses.
thank you so much. Yes, this is meant to be sung, and my dad corrected some problems in earlier versions that didn't fit the music. My dad is not a singer, he didn't practice at all, and he will be 97 in March, but I'll attach it anyway:
Attached Files
File Type: mp3 Terezinska hymna JR.mp3 (1.43 MB, 6 views)
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