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Migrations of a Melody

A people's memory is history. A people without a history can grow neither wiser nor better.
I. L. Peretz
synopsis of the story || Hebrew preface || French preface || Kolnik statement
bilingual Yiddish-English translation
(see pages 234-265, a pdf file courtesy the Yiddish Book Center)
chapters I II III :: IV V VI :: VII VIII IX :: X XI XII :: XIII XIV XV :: XVI XVII XVIII :: XIX XX
To the left, the title page* from a book of 20 woodcut images by Arthur Kolnik (1890-1972), illustrating a short story by I. L. Peretz (1852-1915).
In French, the title is given as Metamorphoses d'une Mélodie; in Hebrew, Gilgulo shel Niggun; or in Yiddish, A Gilgl fun a Nign.

This limited edition book was published in France in 1948. Each image is preceded by a page of Hebrew text and both are reproduced here in full, including the prefaces (in French and Hebrew); the artist's introduction, dedication and table of contents.

* selecting the image of the title page on all subsequent pages will return you to this page.
The term "gilgul nefashot" refers to the transmigration of souls, so in this case, gilgul refers to the transformation or migration of a melody. Traditional melodies, or niggunim, were often associated with a particular community and its rabbi in the towns and small villages (shtetls) where Orthodox Jews lived for generations prior to World War II. Such musical compositions were often used at weddings.

Peretz died in 1915, but his story is timeless and like the rest of his writings speaks to the contradictions, failures and successes with which humanity continues to struggle. Kolnik's work here and elsewhere, like the writings of Peretz, draws upon shtetl life and culture. In addition, here Kolnik choses to illustrate the Peretz tale with images from a world Peretz never lived to see (and one that would have condemned him even had he survived) -- the death camps of World War II. Kolnik dedicates the book to his brother who, along with his brother's wife and their children, perished in the death camps in Poland.
Table of contents (in Hebrew)
References