Avrom Akselrod was a well-known poet and songwriter in the Kovno ghetto. A refugee who had fled Poland at the start of World War II, wrote a number of parodic verses in the ghetto. He was killed in July 1944, when German militiamen set fire to his underground hiding place.
He is particularly known for his cynical, humorous and realistic depictions of the misery and occasional joys of ghetto life, and his songs express the everyday struggles of the ghetto inhabitants. A typical example is the song from 1942 called ‘Ghetto Jew, answer me this’, with the chorus ‘Tsimbale, tsimbale, play ghetto Jew, play a song about the ghetto big shots, about the “inspectors”, about the “chiefs”, climbing so high in the ghetto ranks.’ This sort of critique of the ghetto hierarchy, of the suffering of the masses while the elite live privileged lives, was reflected in one of his journal entries, where he asks: ‘Who needs concerts amidst such great sadness, when hunger whines in every poor house? Better to give the workers some soup, and stop dancing at fancy dress balls.’ Akselrod, however, did not only critique and despair: he also penned pieces of resistance and wrote songs expressing hope for a future beyond the torment of the ghetto.