4 V 1877, Kraków — 4 VI 1942, Kraków Ghetto

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Biography

Mordechaj Gebirtig, a poet and author of Yiddish songs in pre- and wartime Poland, is closely identified with Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of Cracow for his life.

Bearing the name Markus Bertig, he was born in Cracow on 4 May 1877. His education consisted of attending kheder, the basic Jewish religious school and a public school. Subsequently, he became an apprentice to a master carpenter who taught him the trade. He worked actively to improve the living standards of workers through socialism, which shone through his literary works. During World War I, he served as a paramedic in a military hospital in Cracow. Thereafter, he worked in the carpentry and upholstery workshop owned by his brother Leon. He also tried his hand at acting.

As his career developed, he began to call himself Mordechaj Gebirtig, a surname which indicated that he was in the process of being “born again”, taken from the German noun Geburt, or “birth” in English. His first poem, Der Generalsztrajk (“General Strike”), was published in 1905 in a weekly newspaper, Socjaldemokrat (“Social Democrat”). A book of his poems Folkstimlech (“Folk Tunes”) was published in 1920, and a book of his collected songs, Majne lider (“My Songs”), in 1936. His works, written in Yiddish, have been sung on the stages of many Jewish theatres in many parts of the world. Gebirtig wrote the iconic Holocaust song, Unzer shtetl brent (“Our Town Is Burning”), commemorating the pogrom in Przytyk, of 9 March 1936. It became the hymn of the Jewish Combat Organization and sung in the Cracow ghetto and other concentration camps. After the war, it became a symbolic anthem for Holocaust Survivors.

During the occupation, he was confined to Łagiewniki near Cracow, and then removed to the Cracow ghetto. He died on 4 June 1942, shot by a Gestapo officer on the way to the extermination camp. Mordechaj Gebirtig’s songs, documenting pre-war Jewish life, have become priceless relics of a lost world.

Mordechaj Gebirtig, a poet and author of Yiddish songs in pre- and wartime Poland, is closely identified with Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of Cracow for his life.

Bearing the name Markus Bertig, he was born in Cracow on 4 May 1877. His education consisted of attending kheder, the basic Jewish religious school and a public school. Subsequently, he became an apprentice to a master carpenter who taught him the trade. He worked actively to improve the living standards of workers through socialism, which shone through his literary works. During World War I, he served as a paramedic in a military hospital in Cracow. Thereafter, he worked in the carpentry and upholstery workshop owned by his brother Leon. He also tried his hand at acting.

As his career developed, he began to call himself Mordechaj Gebirtig, a surname which indicated that he was in the process of being “born again”, taken from the German noun Geburt, or “birth” in English. His first poem, Der Generalsztrajk (“General Strike”), was published in 1905 in a weekly newspaper, Socjaldemokrat (“Social Democrat”). A book of his poems Folkstimlech (“Folk Tunes”) was published in 1920, and a book of his collected songs, Majne lider (“My Songs”), in 1936. His works, written in Yiddish, have been sung on the stages of many Jewish theatres in many parts of the world. Gebirtig wrote the iconic Holocaust song, Unzer shtetl brent (“Our Town Is Burning”), commemorating the pogrom in Przytyk, of 9 March 1936. It became the hymn of the Jewish Combat Organization and sung in the Cracow ghetto and other concentration camps. After the war, it became a symbolic anthem for Holocaust Survivors.

During the occupation, he was confined to Łagiewniki near Cracow, and then removed to the Cracow ghetto. He died on 4 June 1942, shot by a Gestapo officer on the way to the extermination camp. Mordechaj Gebirtig’s songs, documenting pre-war Jewish life, have become priceless relics of a lost world.


„Undser shtetl brent” („Our Town Burns”)

Voice: Bente Kahan
Accordion: Dariusz Świnoga

Recording of a concert in Stockholm City Hall, 1995.


Farewell Cracow. Bente Kahan sings Mordechaj Gebirtig

Text und Musik: Mordechaj Gebirtig

Gesang: Bente Kahan
Akkoredon: Dariusz Świnoga
Geige: Mirosław Kuźniak

Aufnahme von TVP2, 1992.

Kindheit („Kinderyorn”)

Text und Musik: Mordechaj Gebirtig
Gesang und Gitarre: Bente Kahan

Aufnahme aus dem „Farewell Cracow. Yiddish songs by Mordechai Gebirtig” CD von Bente Kahan, 1992.