Mordecai (or Mordechai / Mordkhe) Gebirtig was born in Cracow in 1877. He lived in the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz. He started off his life as a furniture worker and acted in the Yiddish theatre. Many of songs became well known in Poland between the wars. Gebirtig did not survive the war; he was killed by the Germans in 1942.
His first collection of songs, Folkstimlekh, was published in 1920. Some of his best known songs are contained in the collection Mayne Lider, which was published in 1936. It was reprinted after the Second World War.
Many of Gebirtig’s best known songs are staples of the Yiddish folk song repertoire, among them Avreml der Marvikher, Reyzele, Kinder Yorn and Undzer Shtetl Brent, which was written after a pogrom in 1936 and became a song of the Jewish resistance during the war and is sung at commemorative meetings today.
Although many Gebirtig songs have melodies, not all of them do. A posthumous collection of his poetry, Mayn Fayfele, was published in Israel in 1997 and it is that that I have drawn on for most of my settings.
The poems in Mayn Fayfele cover the whole of Gebirtig’s life, from early songs published in Yiddish newspapers in the mid 1900s to ditties about the Polish Jewish working class movements and property speculation in Cracow.
Short Gebirtig bibliography
Mordechai Gebirtig – Wikipedia article
Mordechaj Gebirtig – article on the Culture.pl website of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute
M Gebirtig Majne Lider – reprint of 1936 edition, Krakow, 2016