It was always my understanding that rock music is the exclusive province of the young, and was created as a genre to protest the restrictions imposed by the older generation. As a genre its function has been to distinguish between the outdated and irrelevant experiences of the previous generation and the new and genuine direction of youth. From the fifties and early sixties when they were talking about all those experiences that old people couldn't understand, through that decade of political protest and mistrust of the over-thirty world, down to the sounds of the seventies and eighties that seemed to many adults to have been created soley to puncture their eardrums -- rock music has always excluded the experience of history and the possibilities of the reconciliation of generations. Although more contemporary rock songs have attempted to include social and political issues, the genre remains one of protest and rebellion against an inherited and inherently corrupt society..1

For this reason it was particularly surprising to me to encounter the subject of the Holocaust in Israeli rock music. It was so unanticipated, that although I perhaps had heard Yehuda Poliker's album Ashes and Dust (1988) which deals almost exclusively with the effects of the Holocaust, it was popular for years before I even thought to pay attention to the lyrics.

A record album that is considered one of the few true classics in Israeli rock, Ashes and Dust was played to me in the autumn preceding the Gulf War, a time when I was particularly vulnerable to the concept of the continuation of the destruction of the Jewish people. Among the songs in this album are those that deal with the doomed attempt of survivors to rebuild their lives in Israel after the war, a visit to the train station at Treblinka, and the fear and anticipation of the effects of the Holocaust on the next generation. The topics themselves were astounding, and the sensitivity and understanding of the problems of relationships between the generation of the Holocaust and the second generation was even more overwhelming. It was the first time I had ever heard my own problems, as the child of Holocaust survivors, verbalized. It was also the first time I had seen dramatized the interrelationship between these two generations. And I thought of it as a unique experience, or at best a private dialogue between Poliker and myself. Soon after, I chanced to hear on the radio a recording of a live concert of Poliker in a park near my house. An audience of thousands of teenagers was singing the chorus of a song written by Yacov Gilad to his mother upon her planned visit to Poland.

If its true that you're going,

just where is it you're going?

Eternity is only dust and ash

If its true that you're going,

just where is it you're going?

Years have gone but nothing has passed

Could it be that that entire audience understood the experience, understood the pain and sympathy of the speaker, the guilt of survival and the knowledge of his own irrevocable injury as the child of survivors? I doubt it, yet something must have been caught of the warmth and sensitivity of the address in the song from son to mother. I translated the whole song then, in an attempt to understand the emotion, finding the melody so powerful I sacrificed beauty of language in order to keep that poignancy in my head. The rigidity of my translation still irritates me - since in Hebrew common words are also classic words, and in English I have had to raise the level from a gentle, conversational tone. Neverthless, the honesty and intimacy of the dialogue is, I think, transmitted. And it is this honesty, intimacy, concern and involvement that is central to the uniqueness of the impact of both text and music.

The feeling of responsibility that so many of the second generation has for its parents, the despair at the possibility of resolving the inner turmoil caused by the external imposition of history, that attention to details -- food, clothing, the company of loved ones, the subject of parody to so many, but instinctive and obsessive to one who has lived through hunger and cold and the loss of loved ones -- all these patterns of emotions are so concisely presented in an almost invisible context.2 But there were other emotions in the album, emotions with which I identified as powerfully and with as much conflict as the title song, such as the song entitled “Because,” which is placed in the album after a series of songs which raise the question, “Why?” A heavy beat accompanies this pained, angry restrained and sustained outburst written by Yacov Gilad and sung by Yehuda Poliker, and the repetition of form emphasizes the accumulation and persistence of that pain.

From the popularity of this song as well as from the lyrics it becomes clear that the trauma of the second generation, intimately linked with the even greater trauma of the survivors, is not a tangential or academic issue for Israeli identity. This is neither a memory or childhood trauma nor a personal obsession of Poliker and Gilad Whether the individual is a child of survivors or not, there is a social association with the historical experience, one with which many Israelis identify no matter what their age or their origin. In the album of "Dust and Ashes" the universality of the experience is emphasized by the oriental flavor of the music, one of the many contributions of Yehuda Poliker's Saloniki background, and the grounding of other songs in the local military and romantic experiences.

Had this album been a unique phenomenon, it might be possible to delineate the Holocaust experience as a personal one. But there are other examples in the field of music. 3 A group entitled "Duralex/Sadelex" presented a videoclip entitled “400 Words” on British Television in 1986 which staggered photographs of people in concentration camps with the members of the group apparently laboring at some futile task. Some singers even wore the familiar striped pajamas, but the sing-song ritualization which characterized the music emphasized the obsessive alienation from the actual experience.

This alienation is in contrast to a recent album by a relatively new singer, Sharon Moldavi, which is centered on the identity of the second generation Holocaust survivor. Entitled Sharon Moldavi, and produced by David White, the album was released in the summer of 1995. The song of the second generation son, recorded in English and used in two different forms on the album, seems to identify a great deal about the contemporary identity of the Israeli, using the distancing device of a foreign language of English as a means for alleviating the pain of the impact.

The somewhat brutal self analysis in “S.G.L.” might appear to border on self pity, but in the context of songs which delineate relationships with parents and others, the objectivity and even irony becomes clear and serves as a starting point for further understanding and the hope for development.

Another song on the album entitled “Mario,” attempts to identify with and project the emotions of a survivor with a very specific personal history. The dual point of view, which seems to alter between the voice of a woman survivor and a narrator, helps to blur distinctions between the first hand experience and the empathic narrator. The single plaintive voice, accompanied by a classic piano (Ronen Shapira), emphasizes both the isolation and ritualization of these private memories.

In recent years numerous scholars such as Sara Horowitz have been exploring the subject of women in the Holocaust, and many have met with the criticism that in the face of the magnitude of the millions of murders and mutilations, making the Holocaust issue into a gender issue is a form of trivialization. 'Mario' suggests the persistence and the prevalence of these kinds of effects on Holocaust survivors, most of whom have not discussed these experiences to this day, in part because of their objective agreement of the relative trivialiof sexual crimes. But by focussing on this comparitively minor event, the song also places the focus and the significance on the individual and the individual experience and not on the faceless enormity of the entire Holocaust experience, thereby personalizing and therefore internalizing the experience.

It is certainly possible to see the introduction of the Holocaust theme in Israeli rock music as part of a general universal opening up of the subject, but the use of such a traditionally antiestablishment media for such a different purpose also suggests some basic differences in this media for Israeli society, as well as some differences in the perception of the Holocaust.



1 The fact that the older generation now shares in the interest of rock with the younger has had the effect, it seems to me, of essentially killing rock as an outlet for the experience, and killing rock as a genre.

2 This is a particular slant to the very traditional theme in Israeli literature of the sacrifice of Isaac. For here it is not the parents who are forced to sacrifice their sons, but the son who sees himself as responsible, nurturing, yet isolated as a result of the inability to identify totally with the mothers.

3 It is necessary to note that this phenomenon does not only characterize music. The gradual awakening of the subject extends to film as well. Orna Ben Dor Niv, for example, made a documentary film based on Gilad and Poliker entitled Because of that War, and has since gone on to another film entitled 'The Good Holocaust.'






Yacov Gilad


A day in spring, the lilac blooms.

Even these slums seem to belong to you.

What a day just to fish in the sea

yet my heart is near breaking in me.

Over there once was but no more

All your youth, my little woman.

There are people that no one now knows -

Not even a house remains to disclose


And if its true that you're going,

just where are you going?

Eternity is only dust and ash

If it's true that you're going,

just where are you going?

Years go by but nothing has passed

Take a coat, you'll feel the cold,

sugar cubes, some change in gold.

If the days are hard for you,

think of me sometimes too.

Though it's just one more hopeless tour

to the shack, to the empty lot

on the rails of the ramshackle town

no one will be waiting at the stop

And if its true that you're going,

just where are you going?

Eternity is only dust and ash

If it's true that you'e going,

just where are you going?

Years go by and nothing has passed.

Who will sweeten your nights

Who will heed your tears

Who will guide your path

on your way

If it' true that you're going,

just where are you going?

Eternity is only dust and ash

Take a coat

you'll feel the cold




translated from the Hebrew by Karen Alkalay-Gut




Yacov Gilad


Because after that war

I was born me

because after the war

you were born you

because both of us are getting lost

looking back for that lost past

because of that trip that begins at the end

because of that steep ascent

because of that fall

(what a giant fall)

because of the fear of being deserted

because there's no more hope

because love always has to end

because the simple truth is hard to lie

because someone else was meant

I can't remain.

Because it's so hard to give up the shreds of youth

because it's so hard to break the laws of loneliness

because every bedroom looks like an anteroom

because every house looks like the last stop

because of the suitcase waiting for a move

because of the memory of a sudden departure

because you always have to run

because it's never here

but always somewhere outside.

Because of the alienating kiss of mother

because of the threatening finger of father

because you were always the black sheep

and they were the parents

because of the locked doors

and the voices in the rooms.

Because of the alcohol and the drugs

because of the unfulfilled dreams

because in my mind I did it so much better

because it's so good it makes me sick.

Because of the terrible lie and the bitter truth

because of the war on terrible dependency

because of the war on guilt

because of the war because of the war

because you mustn't forget and there's no where to escape

because of the memories because of the memories

we too are the victims.

Because there never was a place to hide

because there never was anywhere else,

because of the shadows because of the darkness

because of the pull of gravity

because of the weakness because of the shame

because of the fear in their eyes and the appearances

because of the girls

because of the boys.

Because all your life you'll seek love

from some good mother

because all your life you'll seek

peace with some father

because the search is never over

because the search is never over

because that's the way it is and always will be

That's why

translated from the Hebrew by Karen Alkalay-Gut






I have the body of a hunter

the eyes of a victim

the sickness of someone who was left too many times

I have the hunger of a stranger

an old desire for danger

the self pity of someone who loves himself too much

I've got pretentious ambitions on the verge of demolition

the powers of someone who's wasted too much time

I've got my future behind me, my nightmares to blind me

the weakness of someone who'll never get your love

I'm a second generation survivor

and a second generation loser

And I'll keep changing all the time

but I'll always remain the same child, insane child




Mario, go away

Mario, don't come back

all she wants is you to let go

A young young girl

An old old child

1941 in the churchyard

Soon enough

there won't be a trace

No one will want to hear

And even now most people don't care --

But when she sees herself in her granddaughter's face

Mario comes back Mario comes back Mario comes back

Mario brings her some soup

he brings her potatoes too

And she takes her clothes off in the winter

Mario inhales very loud

breathes out an alcohol cloud

and she cowers without sound


Soon enough

there won't be a trace

No one will want to hear

And even now most people don't care --

But when she sees herself in her granddaughter's face

Mario comes back Mario comes back Mario comes back



translated from the Hebrew by Karen Alkalay-Gut