Texts & Translation

War Poems

Yoysef Kerler

Translation by Maia Evrona


The fol­low­ing two poems by Yoy­sef Ker­ler are strik­ing for a num­ber of rea­sons. When peo­ple, par­tic­u­lar­ly per­haps in the west, think of Jew­ish accounts of World War II, they tend to envi­sion ghet­tos and con­cen­tra­tion camps, to con­jure up hid­ing and flee­ing. When we think of armed Jews dur­ing WWII, we envi­sion clan­des­tine armed resis­tance Jews took up on their own, or in spe­cial par­ti­san units.
Ker­ler, who was orig­i­nal­ly from Ukraine, wrote these poems while serv­ing with the Red Army. War poems con­sti­tut­ed his first book, Far Mayn Erd/​For My Land, released when pub­lish­ing poet­ry in Yid­dish was still per­mit­ted in the Sovi­et Union. 
The land — or as I have trans­lat­ed it in the sec­ond poem includ­ed here, the earth — referred to seems clear­ly to be that of the Sovi­et Union. Notice­ably, Ker­ler does not claim he is fight­ing for the lives of Jews, though he would explore his grief over the Holo­caust through­out the rest of his career.
A decade after these poems were pub­lished, Ker­ler, an ear­ly refusenik who would serve five years in the gulag, had stopped refer­ring to the Sovi­et Union as his erd, as his land. He began to call it, instead, his cradle­land, and to con­sid­er Israel his homeland.

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זעץ איך זיך צו בײַ דעם בױגן פּאַפּיר —
שפּרײטן זיך פֿעלדער פֿאַרשנײטער פֿאַר מיר

און בײַ דעם ערשטן פֿאַרשריבענעם אות —
פֿײַפֿט שױן דער װינט און סע שטאַרקט זיך דער פּראָסט...

גלײַך װי די סטראָפֿע געשלאָסן נאָר װערט,
פּױזען מיר צוגעדריקט האַרט צו דער ערד.

דעם שׂונאם טראַנשײען — אָט זײַנען זײ באַלד
און עמעצער רופֿט שױן און עמעצער פֿאַלט,
און עמעץ פֿאַרשװײַגט שױן דאָס לעצטע געשרײ — —
— — —
שורות, װי שנירעלעך בלוט אױפֿן שנײ.


I sit myself down at the blank sheet —
Snow-covered fields spread out before me

And with the first letter scribed —
The wind whistles and the frost starts to bite…

Just as the stanzas come to a close,
We crawl, pressed stiff to the ground.

To the enemy’s trenches – here they are now
And someone is calling and somebody falls,
And someone stifles their very last shout – –
– – –
Lines, like trickles of blood in the snow.


אױב אײנזאַם װעט קומען מײַן פֿערד אױף צוריק
און טרױעריק נײגן זײַן קאָפּ צו דײַן פּלױט,
דײַן װײגעשרײ, שװעסטער־מײַן־כּלה, דערשטיק —
ניט גלײב, אַז דער שׂונא האָט מיך שױן געטײט.

און װעט מען דיר ברענגען ס׳פֿאַרבלוטיקטע העמד,
דו װעסט עס דערקענען —פֿאַרברעך ניט די הענט —
איך לעב נאָך, איך שטײ אױף די פֿיס און איך שלאָג,
װײַל דו ביסט מיט מיר און מיט מיר איז דער טאָג.

נאָר װעט מען דיר װײַזן מײַן ביקס און מײַן שװערד —
װײַס, אַז געפֿאַלן בין איך פֿאַר מײַן ערד.

יולו 1941‬


If my horse should come back alone
and with sorrow lower its head at your fence,
your painful cry, my sister, my bride, you must repress —
do not believe that the enemy has killed me.

And should they bring you my blood-stained shirt,
you will recognize it — wring not your hands —
I am still alive, I stand firm on my feet and I fight,
because you are with me and with me is daylight.

But if they should show you my gun and my sword —
know, that I have fallen for my earth.

Kerler, Yoysef. “War Poems.” In geveb, November 2020: Trans. Maia Evrona. https://ingeveb.org/texts-and-translations/war-poems.
Kerler, Yoysef. “War Poems.” Translated by Maia Evrona. In geveb (November 2020): Accessed May 26, 2024.


Yoysef Kerler


Maia Evrona

Maia Evrona is a poet and translator.