Sunday, July 13, 2008

Artur Gold and the Death Tango

Mitya, a young Soviet NKVD agent disguised as an elderly blind man, gets little Nadia to open the front gate by claiming that he is the Summer Santa. (1994 Russian film Burnt by the Sun.)
Polish musician Artur Gold in happier times. Gold would later be imprisoned in Treblinka and forced to play the "Death Tango" while wearing a clown-like frock with an enormous bow tie as other Jews were marched into the gas chamber.
I have written about the Polish "Suicide Tango" in a series of previous posts. (Search tango.)
Jerzy Petersburski's nostalgic Polish tango "Ta ostatnia niedziela" (This is our Last Sunday; 1935) recounts the final meeting of former lovers who broke up.
"Ta ostatnia niedziela" is sometimes nicknamed the "Suicide Tango" because it became popular as a background music for young, disillusioned Polish officers who shot themselves in the head.
The Russian version of the tango is titled "The Weary Sun" (Утомлённое солнце, Utomlyennoye solntse) and is also the theme song of the 1994 Russian film Burnt by the Sun.
In the Russian film, Mitya, a disillusioned Soviet officer of NKVD state security, slashes his wrists in the bathtub after arresting the Soviet general Sergei Kotov (portrayed by the Russian actor Nikita Mikhalkov) and betrays the family who had taken him in when he was orphaned.
The tango can also be heard in the film Schlindler's List. An article on European big bands reports that this song, also known as "The Death Tango," has often been used in Polish movies about NAZI concentration camps:
'The Last Sunday' was often played by a small brass orchestra while Jewish prisoners were led to the gas chambers and ovens to be executed. Later, the song was often used in polish movies about the Nazi concentration camps. It was also played in the Treblinka concentration camp by a Jewish orchestra and a choir, which Artur Gold [who performed the song professionally] - one of the camp prisoners before he himself was killed -was forced to organize and also to lead while other Jewish prisoners were marching to the gas chambers. Each musician was dressed in a clown-like shining blue frock and an enormous bow-tie.
Here are some links to the song from Youtube:
Polish tango in Soviet Russia - Utomlennoe solntse, 1936 (The first picture is of Artur Gold, but he is in his tuxedo, not the clown suit the NAZIS made him wear in Treblinka.)
Here are the lyrics for the Polish version of this song in English and information about its history from Wikipedia:
This is our last Sunday
This is our last Sunday, today we will part,
Today we will go our own ways, forever
This is our last Sunday, so give it only to me
Look tenderly in my eyes for the eternal while.
Now's not the time for excuses,
everything has been said,
Today one richer and better than me came
And with you, stole my happiness.
I have one last wish,
this one and only in many years.
Give me this last hope,
And then let the world collapse
You ask me what will I do and where will I go
Where should I go - do I know?
Today there's only one ending which is
-well, never mind
One thing is important,
you must be happy
and don't worry about me.
But before everything ends,
Before fate parts us
Give me this one last hope
This is our last Sunday....
Here is the Russian version in English:
Weary Sun
The weary sun was
Gently leaving the ocean
In that hour, you admitted
There is no love.
I became slightly saddened,
Without gloom without tears
In that hour sounded your words.
Leaving, I have not the strength to be angry.
We are both at fault.
The weary sun was
Gently leaving the ocean
In that hour, you admitted
There is no love.

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