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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 some 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 magazines and anthologies. She also published a book of poems, Der bobes oytser (Grandmother’s Treasure, Warsaw 1922). World War II and the Holocaust interrupted her 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 beautiful dark 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 gray space occupy my head?

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

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