Song

Avreml the Pickpocket

Original Title: Avreml der marvikher

Performer: Daniel Kempin
Lyricist: Mordecai Gebirtig
Composer: Mordecai Gebirtig

Mordecai Gebirtig, born in 1877 in Krakow, Poland, was a Yiddish folk poet and songwriter.

Gebirtig had three daughters, for whom he wrote and performed his poems. The words were set to improvised melodies, and most of his songs resemble entries in a diary. Many of Gebirtig's poems contain themes of eastern European Jewish life in the 1920s and 1930s. The lyrics to "Avreml the Pickpocket" address two social issues, crime and the collapse of family life, arguing that both find their roots in poverty and need.

Homeless I've been since I was quite young,
It was hunger that drove me away from my home
When I'd scarcely reached the age of thirteen
Out in the world, far from mother's eyes,
Brought up in dark, dirty alleyways --
I became a fine young man, indeed.

I am Avreml, the most gifted pickpocket,
A brilliant artist, my work is light and sure.
The first time I was jailed -- as I remember it --
Came about because I'd swiped some bread, oy, oy!
I don't work markets, like any common criminal,
I filch from business magnates, stinking rich and venal.
It's such a pleasure to steal from one of these!
I am Avreml -- a fine young man, indeed.

Out in the world, without enough to live on,
I begged for bread; a poor man used to give some.
But those who had enough to eat
Would drive me off with hate and scorn --
So this is how a thief is born!
Thief I am -- but a fine young man, indeed.

I am Avreml, the most gifted pickpocket,
A brilliant artist, my work is light and sure.
While still a kid, off to jail I went,
Out came a wizard, a singular talent, oy, oy!
I don't work markets, like any common criminal,
I filch from business magnates, stinking rich and venal.
I like good people, gentle company;
I am Avreml -- a fine young man, indeed.

But this game can't go on much longer,
Prison life has left me sick and crippled;
One last request, if I might be so bold:
When I die, on that gloomy day,
Let the writing on my monument say,
In enormous letters, fashioned of gold:

"Here lies Avreml, the most gifted pickpocket,
A great man, he'd most certainly have been;
A kind man, with sympathetic heart,
A righteous man, who always did God's work, oy, oy!
If only a mother's eyes had watched him,
If only the dark alleys hadn't raised him,
If he'd only had a father as a child --