GEBIRTIG, MORDECHAI (originally Bertik ; 1877–1942), Yiddish poet and songwriter. Born in Cracow, he worked as a carpenter and for many years a used furniture restorer. Although untrained musically, he wrote songs of great popular appeal, many of which assumed folksong status. Amateur actor, devoted socialist, army nurse in World War i, he wrote and sang political songs and songs of compassion for the poor as well as entertaining cabaret songs that found their way into the Yiddish theater. His first collection, Folkstimlekh ("Folk-Like," 1920) included 20 poems but no melodies; a second collection published in Vilna in 1936 numbered over 50 songs with melodies (later reprinted with additions: New York 1942, 1948, and Paris 1949), including the famous "Undzer Shtetl Brent" ("Our Town is Burning"). The poet was murdered by the Nazis in June 1942, together with his wife and two daughters. His popularity has steadily grown; his songs are performed worldwide; and new collections of his work have continued to appear: e.g. Mayn Fayfele: Umbakante Lider ("My Little Pipe: Unknown Songs," 1997) prints 80 songs hitherto unknown (ed. N. Gross, with Y. Luden's Yiddish translation of Gross's Hebrew introduction).
Rejzen, Leksikon, 1 (1926), 595–7; lnyl, 2 (1958), 286–90. add. bibliography: N. Gross, Zydowski Bard: Gaweda o Zyciu i Tworczosci Mordechaja Gebirtiga (2000); idem, in: Polin, 16 (2003), 107–17; G. Schneider (ed.), Mordechai Gebirtig: His Poetic and Musical Legacy (2000); B. Davis, in: S. Kerbel (ed.), Jewish Writers of the Twentieth Century (2003), 171–2.
[M. Rav. /
Leonard Prager (2nd ed.)]