Der Signál was based on a short story by Vsevelod Gorschin, a 19th
century Russian author. The story was translated into Yiddish for inclusion
in textbooks for children. These books were published under the auspices of
the Bund, the principal socialist organization of the Jews of Russia and Poland.
Score includes the original Russian and Yiddish translation.
One evening the railroad watchman Semyon walked through the forest. The sun
was low in the sky; there was a deathly stillness, and all that was heard was
the song of a bird chirping somewhere and the cracking of dry twigs under Semyon's
feet. The watchman had almost reached the tracks when suddenly he thought the
heard another sound, as if one piece of metal was striking against another.
Semyon began to hurry. What could this mean he wondered. He came out of the
forest, and before him lay the railroad tracks. There on the tracks a man sat
crouching and mumbling on the rail." The watchman quietly started towards
him. Semyon thought the man was a thief who had come to steal spikes or bolts.
The man had only a crowbar in his hand; Semyon watched as the man put the crowbar
under the rail and twisted it aside.
The watchman's eyes darkened with horror. He wanted to shout, but he could
not. He lunged towards the man, but the other grabbed his tools and like a
coil rolled down the embankment and disappeared into the forest.
Semyon remained standing alongside of the broken rail. A train was just about
due. Not a freight train but a passenger train. He had nothing with him to
stop the train. He did not have his red flag. He could not put the rail back
with bare hands. I must run, no other way but to run to my shed for tools.
God help me, he thought.
The watchman started to run to his shed. He ran with such haste that the thought
now, right now, he would collapse from exhaustion. When he was only a hundred
yards from his shed, he suddenly heard the sound of a near-by factory whistle.
It was now exactly six o'clock. At two minutes to seven the train would pass
by. God in heaven save the innocent souls, Semyon prayed. At that moment the
watchman pictured the scene: The engine's left wheel strikes against the broken
rail; with a shudder it turns on its side and starts to break the cross ties
of the track into bits; and where the track curves, the engine jumps the track
and falls into a deep ditch. The third class cars are packed with people, with
small children. There they sit not knowing of the great danger. Semyon thinks,
God in heaven advise me! What shall I do now. I cannot run to my shed and return
Semyon stopped running. He turned back towards the track with even greater
haste. He ran as if he himself did not exist; without thought as to what he
would do. He ran over to the bent rail. There lay a bundle of sticks. He bent
down, grabbed a stick, not quite understanding why, and ran on. It appeared
to him that the train was coming. He hears the rails gradually begin to tremble.
He no longer had the strength to run further and stopped not far from the dreadful
place. Suddenly an idea struck him. He tore off his cap, took knife from his
boot and shouted God help! He stabbed the knife into his left arm above his
elbow. The blood spurted out like a warm stream. He soaked his kerchief, spread
it out, smoothed it, tied it to the stick and raised high his red flag. He
stood waving his flag as the train appeared. He could not get too close, as
it would leave no time for the train to stop. Meanwhile, the blood flowed and
flowed. Semyon pressed his wound against his side trying to stop the bleeding,
but he could not. He had cut too deeply into his arm. His head swam, his eyes
grew dark, his ears filled with ringing bells. He no longer saw the train,
nor heard its roar. Only one thought bore through his brain - Iwill not stay
on my feet. I will, God forbid, drop the flag and the train will run over me.
Help me God! He sank into emptyness, and he dropped the glag. But the engineer
had already seen him. The train stopped. The passengers jumped out and a crowd
gathered. On the ground they saw a man lying in a pool of blood, unconscious,
and beside him a blood-stained rag on a stick.
translated from Yiddish into English by Roslyn Bresnick Perry.