Music is not just a few notes strung together to create a tune, often accompanied by lyrics. Music is much more then that. It is therapy. It gives hope where there is despair. It gives joy where there is grief. It can transport you back to the days of yore, when time was complicated. It gives you an outlet to voice an opinion in a creative way. It gives meaning to your soul.
Mordechai Gebirtig must have realized the power of music.
Mordechai Gebirtig , was an influential Yiddish poet and songwriter of the interwar period. He was shot by Germans in the Kraków Ghetto, Poland, during the Holocaust.
He had three daughters, for whom he wrote and performed his poems. The words were set to improvised melodies, and most of his songs resemble entries in a diary.
He was self-taught in music, played the shepherd’s pipe, and tapped out tunes on the piano with one finger. He earned his livelihood as a furniture maker. However music and theatre were his hobbies.
During the first years of the war, most Jews were expelled from the city of Kraków. In November 1940, along with his wife and daughters, Gebirtig settled in a nearby village, where – without a real income, adequate shelter, food or health services. Gebirtig gave many of his papers to his friend Hoffmann, who managed to preserve them throughout the war.
On October 2, 1940. Mordecai Gebirtig wrote the song ” Minutn Fun Bitokhn-Moments of certainty” to raise the spirits of the persecuted Jewish community in Krakow. The poet’s reference to “Haman” alludes to the ancient Persian enemy of the Jewish people.
But when daily deportations of Jews to the death camps began in January 1942, his songs became increasingly pessimistic and dark.
Es brent “It’s burning”, also known as undzer shtetl brent “our town is burning”, in Hebrew translation) is a Yiddish poem–song which was written in 1936 by Gebirtig. Although the poem is generally said to have been written in response to the Przytyk Pogrom of 1936, after the Holocaust the song was often used in Holocaust commemoration or in programmes of World War II Ghetto music, both in the original Yiddish and in Hebrew translation.This is probably Gebirtig’s best-known composition.
By 1939, with the changing political situation in Europe, he had changed the final line of the poem from “if the town is dear to you” to “if life is dear to you.” Rising antisemitic censorship in Poland also made it so that Gebirtig was occasionally forbidden to perform the song in public.
During the war, the song was adopted by Jewish Partisans against the Nazi regime, particularly in Krakow. According to some recollections, whistling its melody was used as a code by imprisoned resistance fighters in the Montelupich Prison.
On 4 June 1942, Nazis surrounded the ghetto and began marching Jews to waiting cattle cars. The screams of the soldiers were accompanied by gunshots; all those too slow to keep up, or too ill or weak to stay on their feet, were shot. Among the first Jews to die on the way to the cars was Gebirtig. Although both the poet and his wife were murdered, his daughters managed to survive in hiding.