ROME (Dec. 28)
A collection of songs by the Yiddish songwriter Mordechai Gebirtig has appeared for the first time in Italy.
The collection includes Italian translations of all previously published works by Gebirtig as well as a number of recently discovered poems and songs by the author, who was killed by the Nazis in Krakow, Poland, in 1942.
The release of the book by the Florence-based Jewish publishing house Giuntina reflects the growing interest in Yiddish in Italy.
The book is sold with a cassette recording of performances of some of the songs.
“It is probably the most complete collection of Gebirtig’s songs to appear in any language,” said Rudi Assuntino, who edited the collection.
Gebirtig, born in Krakow in 1877, worked as a carpenter in his native city but also wrote some of the most famous Yiddish songs, including “Reyzele,” “Kinder- yorn,” and “Moyshele, Mayn Fraynd” as well as “Undzer Shtetl Brent.”
Gebirtig’s songs are about everyday life — love, politics, poverty, work, war and prayer. He continued to write even during the Holocaust, when he was confined to the Krakow Ghetto.
His last song, “S’tut Vey…” (“It Hurts…”), was written shortly before the Nazis shot him dead on the street. It deals with the indifference of Poles to the fate of the Jews.
Assuntino said he hopes the translation would help bring Gebirtig’s songs into the mainstream.
“Why is Yiddish literature considered part of world literature and Yiddish songs not?” he asked.
“If history had been different, if several million Jews had not been exterminated and their culture canceled from the face of the earth, Gebirtig clearly today would be as important as the Gershwin brothers,” he added.
Italy’s Jewish community numbers about 30,000, but few of them are of Ashkenazi descent and know Yiddish.