Danny Yee >> Travelogues >> Oxford Blog >> Children
spires from Carfax

Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna

The lullaby I use most regularly with Helen is the song "Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna", one of the few songs I remember from my own childhood. I remembered the lyrics surprisingly well when I started singing it to Helen, so I think my mother may have sung it to me as a lullaby too.

This was orginally a song from a Yiddish musical performed in New York in 1940-41 — Wikipedia has the details — but the version I know is
Joan Baez's.

(There are other performances.)

The interpretation of the song is debated: is it a metaphor for Jews in the Holocaust, perhaps "a political statement in Israel during WWII to encourage resistance vs. Nazi racism", or a mystical parable? My guess is that the song is a Diaspora expression of relief at having left Eastern Europe, along with a general fear for those left behind: a Yiddish performance in New York seems unlikely to have been Zionist, while the Holocaust per se only started to become known in the US in late 1941.

Courtesy of YouTube, I discover that this song is popular in Vietnam, there is not only a Vietnamese version, but a French one (directly translated from the Yiddish). And there's a version by an Indonesian singer. And of course a Yiddish version.


  1. I can see a very youthful Bob Dylan.

    Comment by DL — January 2015
  2. the message is: don't be like sheep, you can carry sheep to the butcher, they will not protest; in the contrary: try to escape, fly like a swallow ignoring all fences and frontiers... - our Jewish friends who escaped from Nazi Germany to New York 1940 sang this tune together with us - "we shall overcome" is another message of Joan Baez one could compare with Donna, Donna...
    and my own playing at

    Comment by Frizz — January 2015

TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Children << Oxford Blog << Travelogues << Danny Yee