Der Signál

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 in time.


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.