The Krakow Ghetto Notebook is a recording of song-poems by the great Yiddish poet, Mordecai Gebirtig, that were set to music by several composers.
Mordecai Gebirtig was born in 1877 in Krakow, Poland and worked as a carpenter all of his life, but Gebirtig’s true calling was as an artist and a father - two roles that inspired each other. Gebirtig would write and perform his poems for his three daughters, set to melodies he improvised on a shepherd’s flute. He never bothered to publicize his work. Most of his songs resemble entries in a diary. Intensely personal and honest, often with a touch of sadness, they reflect a moment in the life of the poet.
In 1936, a pogrom occurred in the small town of Przytyk. In response, Gebirtig wrote a revolutionary song that became his most famous, “Undzer shtetl brent!” (“Our Town is Burning!”). The song would prove prophetic of the Holocaust. Soon, Gebirtig’s home and the surrounding Jewish communities were destroyed by the Nazis. Gebirtig was exiled and, in 1941, the Gestapo forced him and his family to live in the Krakow ghetto. There, Gebirtig wrote poems of outrage and confusion, resistance and escape, hope and perseverance, and transcribed them into a notebook of the type used by Polish school children.
Gebirtig wrote until the very end. In 1942, he was shot and murdered by the Nazis. His wife and their daughters perished in a death camp. Miraculously, through the courageous effort of Julia Hoffman, a surviving friend, the notebook of poetry survived the Holocaust. Gebirtig’s notebook is now archived at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York.
The Krakow Ghetto Notebook was recorded August 1993 at the Rebecca and Joseph Meyerhoff Auditorium in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C. (except tracks 11, 13 & 19). Most of the songs for this recording are from the original notebook, set to music by several talented composers after the poet’s death. The songs are arranged for vocals and guitar and feature violin. The CD includes informational literature with detailed annotations and the complete lyrics in Yiddish and English.
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