Text & Translation

אַ שטיקעלע ברױט

A Crumb of Bread

David Edelstadt

Translation by Zachary Groz


“A Shtikele Broyt” (1889) is a seven-stanza poem written in the proletarian tradition by David Edelshtat. Edelshtat, born in Kaluga, Russia in the spring of 1866, emigrated to the United States at the age of fifteen in the days following the Kiev pogrom. Upon his arrival, he became involved in local anarchist circles, most notably the New York-based Pionire der Frayhayt (Pioneers of Freedom), an organization formed in response to the Haymarket Massacre. To supplement his income, Edelshtat worked in a sweatshop as a buttonhole-maker, an experience which further confirmed his ideological convictions and contributed to his premature death at the age of twenty-six from tuberculosis. At the same time, Edelshtat composed numerous poems—all dealing with consequential social questions—that reached the Yiddish-speaking public in labor newspapers including Di Varhayt (The Truth), Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labor), and Arbeiter Fraynd (Worker’s Friend). Edelshtat’s “A Shtikele Broyt,” like many of his other poems, contends with the brutality of industrial society, wage slavery, and human morality. Structurally, the poem follows a strict ABAB rhyme scheme and a semi-regular metrical pattern, making it adaptable to music. The English translation below attempts to preserve, as well as possible, the internal rhyme scheme of the original text, while remaining faithful to its intended meaning. Edelshtat’s corpus has also seen something of a renaissance in the last decade. Contemporary klezmer musician Daniel Kahn and his ensemble The Painted Bird have, through translation and performance, demonstrated the contemporary relevance of his work to a new generation of listeners.

Zachary Groz

Click here to download a PDF of this poem and its translation.

פֿאַר אַ שטיקעלע ברױט אָן קײטן, אָן סם!
ביז מײַן טױט װאָלט איך אַרבעטן גערן,
אָבער ברידער! מײַן ברױט איז איצט פֿול מיט מײַן דם,
פֿאַרגיפֿטעט מיט בלוטיקע טרערן.

עס רעבעלירן מײַן האַרץ און מײַן מוח,
קעגן דעם שענדלעכן ברױט,
פֿאַר װעלכן איך אָפּפֿער מײַן לעבן, מײַן כּוח,
און לײַד דערצו ביטערע נױט.

אַ שטיקעלע ברױט אָן סם און אָן קײטן,
ברידער! פֿאַרלאַנג איך דען פֿיל?
בין איך דען שולדיק, אַז איך קען ניט טײטן
אין מיר יעדן מענטשן־געפֿיל?!

אַ שטיקעלע ברױט אָן שענדלעכע קײטן,
ברידער! װער עס װיל אַזאַ ברױט,
דער מוז אונדזער הײליקע לערע פֿאַרברײטן,
קעמפֿן אױף לעבן און טױט!

ער מוז איבעראַל אין זײַן ברוסט מיט זיך טראָגן
פֿון פֿרײַהײט דעם הײליקן פֿלאַם,
יעדן קנעכט, יעדן הערשער װאָרהײט נאָר זאָגן:
„מיר װילן קײן קײטן, קײן סם.

מיר װילן פֿרײַ אַרבעטן און אױך פֿרײַ געניסן
די פֿרוכטן פֿון אונדזערע הענט,
מיר װילן איר זאָלט אונדז דאָס בלוט ניט פֿאַרגיסן,
מיר װילן פֿון קנעכטשאַפֿט אַן ענד!

מיר װילן די פֿרײַהײט, מיר װילן די ערד;
מיר זעען די צוקונפֿט מיט קלאָרהײט.
יעדער שקלאַף איז אַ מענטש, יעדער מענטש איז אַ העלד,
װען זײַן װאָפֿן איז ליבע און װאָרהײט!“

For a crumb of bread without poison, without chains!
I’d be glad to toil all my years.
But brothers! my bread’s now filled with my pain,
Toxic with bloody tears.

My heart and head rebel,
Against that vile bread,
For which I go through hell,
And endure such bitter dread.

A crumb of bread without poison, without chains,
Brothers! Is that too much to ask?
Am I guilty if my life still remains
And in me humanity lasts?

A crumb of bread without chains, without claws,
Brother! if you’d like a bite,
You must help to advance our cause,
And join in the eternal fight.

Everywhere he must carry it in his bones,
For freedom, the sacred flame,
Every slave and every master he will tell the truth alone,
“I want no poison and no chains.”

We want free labor and free reward,
The fruits of our very hands,
We want blood to be shed no more,
And slavery forever banned.

We want this freedom, this world,
We see the future with clarity,
Every slave is human, every human,a hero,
When his weapons are compassion and veracity.

David Edelstadt . “A Crumb of Bread.” In geveb, April 2019: Trans. Zachary Groz . https://ingeveb.org/texts-and-translations/a-crumb-of-bread.
David Edelstadt . “A Crumb of Bread.” Translated by Zachary Groz . In geveb (April 2019): Accessed May 21, 2019.


David Edelstadt


Zachary Groz

Zachary Groz will be entering Yale University as an undergraduate in the fall of 2019, where he intends to study History and Classics.