Music of the Holocaust: Highlights from the Collection

Songs of the ghettos, concentration camps, and World War II partisan outposts

Music of Protest

 

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
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Cover of <i>S’Brent</i> (It’s Burning), first edition of Gebirtig’s ghetto songs (Cracow, 1946).
Cover of S’Brent (It’s Burning), first edition of Gebirtig’s ghetto songs (Cracow, 1946).
— From Mordecai Gebirtig, S’Brent, Cracow, 1946.
Identification photograph of Mordecai Gebirtig. Cracow, Poland, August 8, 1940.
Identification photograph of Mordecai Gebirtig. Cracow, Poland, August 8, 1940.
Zydowski Instytut Historyczny Instytut Naukowo-Badawczy.
Mordecai Gebirtig, second from right, top row, with family and friends. Cracow, Poland, 1924.
Mordecai Gebirtig, second from right, top row, with family and friends. Cracow, Poland, 1924.
Beth Hatefusoth
Our Town Is Burning
(Undzer shtetl brent)

Cracow, Poland, ca. 1938

Lyrics by: Mordecai Gebirtig

Music by: Mordecai Gebirtig

Language: Yiddish

 

Performed by Daniel Kempin

Mordecai Gebirtig, born in Cracow in 1877, made his living as a carpenter but was celebrated throughout the Yiddish-speaking world as a folk poet and songwriter—the “troubadour of the Jewish people.” During World War II, he continued to write and perform, using the medium of song to chronicle his experiences under the German occupation. In June 1942, Gebirtig, age 65, was shot and killed by German soldiers when he refused to comply with a deportation order.

Gebirtig wrote Our Town is Burning in response to a 1936 pogrom in the Polish town of Przytyk. In retrospect, the song seems prophetic of the Holocaust, but Gebirtig had hoped its message (“Don't stand there, brothers, douse the fire!”) would be heard as an urgent call to action. He was reportedly gratified to learn, during the war, that Cracow's underground Jewish resistance had adopted Our Town is Burning as its anthem.

The song Our Town is Burning remains a popular recital piece that is performed at Holocaust commemoration ceremonies around the world.

Recording Source:

Mordecai Gebirtig, Krakow Ghetto Notebook.

Related Links:

Cracow (article in the USHMM’s Holocaust Encyclopedia)

Pogroms (article in the USHMM’s Holocaust Encyclopedia)

Mordecai Gebirtig (article in Museum of Tolerance Online)

Further Reading/Listening:

Mordecai Gebirtig. Krakow Ghetto Notebook. Koch International Classics, 3-7295-2H-1. CD available in the Museum shop.

Gertrude Schneider, ed. Mordechai Gebirtig: His Poetic and Musical Legacy. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2000.

 

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