The socialist movement actively tried to attract emigrant workers. The theme of the hard labour of workers in factories or sweatshops appears in the works of socialists, who were often emigrants themselves. Some songs were anthems, and were created for that collective singing. An example of this is the Polish émigré song. There, emigrants leave their native land because of social injustice. Landlords, magnates, and priests are opposed to oppressed workers or soldiers who returned from the war and did not receive the expected guarantees. At the same time, the song emphasizes the temporary nature of emigration, because emigrants will return to their native land to make a revolution.


Polish émigré song, 1918-1939

Cyfrowa Biblioteka Polskiej Piosenki
Printed in:
Kalicka Felicja, Olearczyk Edward. Polskie pieśni rewolucyjne z lat 1918–1939, Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1950, s. 75, 76.
Original language:

Pieśń emigrantów 

Gdy nasz lud roboczy, kłamstwami karmiony,
Gnił w nędzy i marł od oręża –
I bezpiecznie ukryci, zbijali miliony
Dziedzice, bankierzy i księża.

O, cześć wam, panowie magnaci,
Za ludu cierpienia, niedolę!
O, cześć wam, paskarze, grabieżcy i kaci,
Za ludu tułaczkę, niewolę!

Gdy pokój nastąpił po wojnie na wschodzie,
Robotnik powrócił do domu –
Czy będzie miał pracę, czy zginie o głodzie,
Zatroszczyć nie było się komu.
O, cześć wam…

Gdy żołnierz powrócił przez rząd okłamany,
Ni chleba, ni pracy rząd nie dał –
By buntu nie podniósł lud, nędzą sterany,
Francuskim burżujom go sprzedał.
O, cześć wam…

Lecz próżne nadzieje, że patron tutejszy
Wyuczy lud polski pokory –
Nie wróci do Polski robotnik ciemniejszy,
Nie wróci do walki nieskory!
O, cześć wam…

I czas gdy nadejdzie, lud wróci z oddali,
Zażąda od panów rachunku,
Nad krajem się łuna powstania rozpali,
Burżujom nie będzie ratunku!
O, cześć wam…

Nadejdzie godzina ostatniej rozprawy,
Zgnębiony kapitał upadnie.
Uleci znad ziemi znękanej cień krwawy
I wolność tą ziemią zawładnie!
O, cześć wam… 

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Documents (3)

“My Mummy Is Back Home, When I’m In America”, song about emigration
The song is built on the emigration-home dichotomy. It reflects the popular strategy of rural families who sent some of their children to emigration, so that they could help support the household with money transfers. In the song, a daughter who has a hard job in the factory and suffers as a “green”, that is, an inexperienced migrant, from not speaking the language, unfair wages, and difficult work conditions. Women were often migrant workers, but they worked in worse and less paid jobs. She reproaches the mother who sent her to earn money and does not know about the hardships of labour. The experience of young migrants who went through numerous trials, but...
“It Feels Good in America”, song about emigration, recorded in 1949
The song highlights the difference between life in America and life back home, in Europe. Unlike the songs that mention disappointment from the unfulfilled hopes in the United States, this piece shows work as a safeguard for higher economic status. America allows immigrants to lead a comfortable lifestyle, one of the attributes of which is a pocket watch. But the conflict of the song is built on the opposition of the wealth of the migrant and the poverty of his wife and children at home. Despite the economically comfortable life, there is a problem of emotional discomfort and a feeling of alienation from family and home.
“Amidst America, There’s a Solid Brick Inn”, song about emigration
The song covers several topics at the same time. It focuses on the difficulties of migrant work, adaptation in a new country, and separation from the family. New migrants sit and drink in the inn (korchma). The use of this term demonstrates the domestication of a new space through familiar concepts and rituals. At the same time, migrants have an important connection with the “old land”, with Europe, where their wives stayed behind. Contacts with home mainly happen when they transfer money and the man is worried lest the woman gets a lover. From this song, we can also understand that it is more profitable to work in the mines, underground. One such...
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Audio (3)

Grine kuzine (Green Cousin), song about emigration, 1921
The song, with a debatable authorship, was written for a Jewish theater. It was performed both in Europe and in the United States, and it became one of the most popular migrant works. The word “green” was an ironic definition of new immigrants who did not navigate well in American reality. The song “Green Cousin” raises the issue of disappointment of migrants in America, where hard work exhausts new-comers and does not bring the expected profit. The “Columbian state” appears not as a dream country where dreams come true, but a society of inequalities. Despite the hilarious music and satirical plot, the song shows the anxiety of emigrants due to the lack of...
A brivele der mamen (A Little Letter to Mama), song about emigration, 1907
The song was written by a Belarusian composer and singer, Solomon Smulewitz (1868-1943) in 1907. The author also had experience of migration to the United States. The song became very popular. In particular, it was used as a basis for a theatrical production and a film in Yiddish. The work raises the issue of migration caused separation of families. While the son who went to America has a successful life and a new family, his mother feels abandoned. Before her death, she asks her son not to forget to read Kaddish, a memorial prayer for her. The problem of separated families remained common to all migrants, but in this text the Jewish prayer...
“Goldene land” (Golden land), song about emigration, 1889
The song was written by a Lithuanian Jewish poet, Eliakum Zunser (1840-1913) based on his own experience of emigrating to the United States. The song "Golden Land" touches on the issue of new migrants, whose high expectations fail. The American city turns out to be a space full of dirt, noise, and poverty. Although jobs are available, they are poorly paid and dangerous to health. America is also not a place of social equality, because like in Europe, there is a disproportion in the distribution of wealth. This is an urban experience that was shared by many Jewish migrants who found work in the textile industry, or like Zunser himself, in the printing...
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Related modules (1)

The end of the 19th century through the beginning of the 20th century is known as the period of mass migration from Europe to other continents, when more than 55 million people changed their place of residence. In particular, this process captured the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires, where a difficult economic situation, job shortages, and persecutions stirred various groups of the population to leave. Such groups included both Ukrainian and Polish peasants, and Jews from urban centers who were small-scale craftsmen or workers. Most often, they moved to the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil, where labor was needed at factories or farms.
Worked on the material:
Research, comment

Vladyslava Moskalets

Translation into English

Svitlana Bregman

Comments and discussions