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Majer Bogdanski, z"l

Itzik Gottesman writes to the Jewish-Music mailing list:

I have to report the sad news that Majer Bogdanski died on Sunday, Sept 4 at the age of 93 (approx). A wonderful singer, composer, yiddish cultural leader in London. Others on the list who knew him better can write with more detail about his life and work. Er zol hobn a likhtikn gan-eydn - itzik

lovely portrait and decent typeMajer, who was born in Poland, but lived most of his life in the UK was credited as a source in the amazing 2000 Budowitz album, ">Wedding without a Bride. He was less successfully recorded in a CD released in the UK, "">Yiddish Songs—Yidish lider in that same year. As a mensh of the highest order, as a worker, union organizer, teacher, a canter and as a singer he will be missed by all who knew him.


An obituary for Majer Bogdanski in the Guardian [UK] can be found here:


Majer Bogdanski

Keeping Yiddish and its culture alive in the diaspora

Heather Valencia / Monday September 12, 2005
The Guardian UK

Majer Bogdanski, who has died aged 93, was imprisoned in a Stalinist labour camp, fought in Italy with the British army and became one of the last remaining links between modern Jewish culture in Britain and the vibrant Jewish socialist movement of prewar eastern Europe. Before the war, he was a leader of the Bund in Poland, the Jewish socialist organisation which, in contrast to the Zionist movement, saw the future of European Jewry in the diaspora, with Yiddish language and culture as its foundation ....

Article continues

Thank you.

Dear Adavidow,
With all respect Mr. Bogdanski was born in Poland, which at that time was under partitions (until 1918). When Majer was born, the Soviet Union did not exist yet (thank God!).
Majer went to a Polish school and fought in the Polish Army under General Wladyslaw Anders (which was a part of the Allied Forces) during WWII (i.e. he took part in the battles at Ancona and Monte Cassino, where he was rewarded for his bravery!)


I have changed the text. Thank you for the correction.


I got to know Majer through the Jewish Socialists' Group in London. He didn't say a lot, but when he did you had to listen - what he had to say came from life and suffering, not from books. He spoke firmly, from principle, and concern for people, not treating ideas as playthings or trying to impress.
That said, Majer was an educated man, in spite of having to leave school and struggle for his living while young. He had broad interests, and got on with all sorts of people. I went to see Majer in hospital when he was seriously ill and found him talking to a couple of young visitors about Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare. They were interested in his comments and so was I.
Two other memories - one, Majer singing the Internationale in Yiddish at a JSG May Day event, his surprising powerful voice from such a small guy filling Toynbee Hall. He could have been a chazan in shul -thank God he wasn't.
The other is when I lived near Victoria, meeting Majer one evening on his way to catch a bus to Scotland I think, with his violin case. He explained that he was off to visit a sick friend in hospital, and play them some music they liked. A mitzvah, truly. And when I asked how he was he shrugged and laughed.
At Majer's funeral there were Jews of all shades of observance, from Federation frummers to people like me, and non-Jews of all colours. Majer united a lot of people in love and respect.

Dear Majer's Friends,
I share your sadness and the sense of great loss.
My humble tribute to Majer can be read here:


A small obituary on a Polish site devoted to Jewish-Polish-Christian relations:


I was a beginning Yiddish student when I first met Majer at Fraynt fun Yidish in London in 2001. At that time he was 89 years old.

Among my most powerful memories are those of a small man with an enormous and melodious voice, singing, unaccompanied, his own musical settings of Yiddish poetry.

Each week he brought pages of Yiddish poetry to life with these offerings from the hundreds of such works that flowed from his pen.

These compositions, as well as his countless performances and recordings as singer and storyteller, have earned Majer a secure place in the annals of Jewish music.

Majer’s kindness, generosity of spirit, and devotion to Yiddishkayt throughout his long and productive life have earned him a secure place in our hearts.

There are additional obituaries in Mendele:


There's a gathering to celebrate Majer's life on Sunday, November 27, 2.30 -4.30pm, at the Manor Gardens centre, Manor Gardens off Holloway Road,, London N7.
This will include a short film about the Bund in which Majer figures. There will be light refreshments. The meeting is organised by the Jewish Socialists' Group. All welcome.

My Majer

He was a small, frail old man. Life was attempting to bend him towards the earth, but with a radiant on smile on his face, a face so wonderfully smooth for a 93 -year-old, he would bravely straighten himself up. He had the scampish grin of a happy child that had just won a lollipop (though such treats must have been rare or absent in his own poverty-stricken childhood), and he bestowed it generously on all around him, emanating a spiritual beauty that was difficult to resist.

The very first time I met him, I fell under his spell. He could come up with the most delightful surprises. Once, on leaving a Chanuka party, during which he had sung Jewish prayers in his fine, strong voice, he suddenly struck up the Polish patriotic church hymn "Boze cos Polske". "Well", he laughingly explained, on noticing my astonishment, "during the war" (he had fought at Ancona and Monte Cassino with the Anders Army) "I had to lead my soldiers to Sunday mass, didn't I?". It caused me no little delight, which is what he had probably intended.

I loved him as if he were my own grandfather. I wanted to be worthy of his love and I believe that in spite of my failings, I succeeded. It was the most valuable gift I received from him. He was a tsadik - the wonderful term used to describe him by a close friend at his funeral. He was good, warm-hearted and wise, accepting with dignity and equanimity what fate had decreed for him. When he felt that his strength was beginning to fail and that he could no longer cope with the demands of daily life, he asked his friends to find a home for him. With his lively intelligence and bright mind he found himself among old age pensioners suffering from the horrors of senile dementia. Nevertheless, he remained in good spirits because this had been his decision and he was still master of his own life, joking that he wanted to "die in harness".

Although he had had to leave behind his trusty piano, he continued to work indefatigably at composing music to harrowing poems about the Holocaust. He would painstakingly copy out his compositions by hand and ask me to send them to their authors - Jerzy Ficowski and Wislawa Szymborska.

He wanted them to know that in far-off Albion an old Polish Jew had been touched by their poetry. In his last letter to me he paid homage to my world, writing with delicacy and tact "And now, I beg you to believe me when I say that I too felt a terrible emptiness in my heart when I heard the terrible news of the death of Pope John Paul II. My only wish is that all his successors will be able to rise to his level of humanity". Able to see the good in every person, he knew both sides of the coin. His very presence would fill you with a soothing tranquillity.

I wanted to commemorate him in some way, to raise him up and make a hero of him, since for me he was one, but in so doing I lost sight of the real Majer and what made him truly great. A friend persuaded me to write to the Polish Ministry of Defence and ask whether they would consider conferring some award or other on Majer. I did so and received a positive response - they wanted to promote him to the rank of second lieutenant and also give him an award to acknowledge his deportation to Siberia and the time he spent in the Gulag. When Majer found out about this, he was resolutely opposed to the idea. In his opinion he had received what he deserved. He maintained that he did not feel hard done by and that not only would such an award imply that he was due more than he had received, it would also undermine the decision of his commanding officers. In addition it would not be fair to his companions in arms and would be conduct unbefitting both a soldier and a civilian. He had fought because it was his duty as a soldier - he would not accept anything and that was the end of the matter! Just one more example of his high class!

What a fool I was to have imagined he would react otherwise. But that was my Majer.

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