Mendel Zemelman


Zemelman Mendel was born June 10, 1904 in Wloclawek, Poland, in a numerous and modest family with twelve children. Since it’s young age, he has a real aptitude for music. At age nine, he was invited to sing for the synagogue of the city, but his parents could not provide him a musical education, he was placed at thirteen as trainee tailor. But while working, he continued to learn music theory, and having perfected his knowledge, he was committed to the Wloclawek  Municipal Orchestra as a trumpet. He was then fifteen years old. When he started with his boss, his general knowledge was minimal. But the latter's daughter, who was a teacher, undertook to teach him the language, grammar and literature. On the other hand, while continuing his work as a tailor, he learned the violin and when he was called to his military service, he played in the orchestra of his regiment. After leaving the army, he prepared an academic license degree and obtained a degree in music education, which earned him a position in a Jewish school. He then joined the Socialist Party (Bund), where he campaigned until his departure to Paris in 1931. In fact, his job allowed him to meet his needs, but he wanted to go to the city of his dreams. He worked and improved his competences, he joined the Socialist Union Medem party where he created a band of forty fans ...

It was the time when he married Gusta, a socialist activist also. At the outbreak of war, he enlisted in the French army ... On May 14, 1942, with five thousand others Jewish men,  he was summoned by the authorities "for consideration of his situation".  Interned at Pithiviers, he went through a very sad time ... In literature and folk writing, there is a constant thought: resist! Courage! Endurance! ... synonyms of surviving, reinforced the prisoners with the idea that the miracle will occur ...  Mendel was one of those who acted with the intention to help the poorest among the prisoners  and prevent them from falling into despair. He befriended the communist poet Israel Cendorf . Presumably the links between them in their cultural action for their simple human understanding also existed because Zemelman was socialist and Cendorf communist; both aspired to a society of justice and dignity. The only piece of Mendel’s writing that we have is a piece of music of the first strophe  for an hymn written by Cendorf, "Our spirit is not broken" which first verse written both in Latin and Yiddish characters  is: "Life is wonderfully beautiful. Hymn Pithiviers. Text by Cendorf, Music by  Zemelman. This was created in a camp ".  And in the right corner: “Gift to a Comrade author of the text. Signed Zemelman”. Those two, men of valor, the poet and the musician, the communist and the socialist, both killed for their ideals, their dream of a more beautiful life for all those who suffer, work, think and create ...
This hymn from Cendorf and Zemelman was sung by Oïzer Kavka when he was interned and it never fails to sing it every year in Paris and Pithiviers, on the occasion memorial day ...


Excerpts from "Affairs, Martyrs & Heroes of the Resistance"
David Diamond Edition Renewal, 1984