The Remarkable Zalmen Zylbercweig
and his Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre

 

Introduction to the Lexicon, Vol. I
written by Zalmen Zylbercweig
 

The "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" is only a file of the activity of its people whose biographies it brings forth, though it is not a critical analysis about their activity. Fragments of more specific criticism is brought, made only at death, or at the time when they had withdrawn from their theatre activity.

The "Lexicon" records only the actions, but not any appraisal that rates the quality of the actions, which leaves the writer of the history of Yiddish theatre or the critic. They want hereof to evaluate that which is, and the importance of the of the practiced actions. Therefore we may in no way consider the number of lines of each biography as the measure of value of the subject. It has been troublesome to bring more information about each one, and more bibliography. A large number of actors have an extended amount of data; others have what is inexact, or very little data about their activities. It is therefore self-evident that what is possible within the "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" will certainly be unwise for everyone who are associated with the Yiddish theatre, and to keep from today onwards dates, historical facts and documents.

Due to the universal character of the "Lexicon", there is included within the biographies of certain actors who generally act in small roles, detailed data about Yiddish theatre in their related countries.

In order that the picture of the scope of Yiddish theatre in the world should be complete, here are brought the biographies and lists of activities of everyone who worked directly (actors), or directed (dramatists, composers, theatrical directors et al), on the stage. Thereby, included are the biographies of each dramatist who were professional writers, only some biographical data from the very first who entered into literature. Of more subsequent literary activity was hulled out only very direct activity of Yiddish theatre.

The idea to create the "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" that had come to me arose many years ago. No specific date can be given [for this], but I believe that the year 1914 was agreed on as the time the idea was drafted, and that the year 1918 was [the year] when the plan began to take on its current form.

It is difficult to determine if the direct initiative for the work was called forth by me through my coming into contact with Yiddish actors and feeling their misery, which is more a term for a very short, unique life, or they had felt a certain impact from Sh. Niger's "[Der] Pinkes" and the first edition of Zalmen Reyzen's "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature". It is possible that everything together called forth to me to plan to write a work, that I should provide a picture of those who have produced and brought up an important branch of our culture -- the Yiddish theatre.

From the moment, however, that I started collecting the material for this purpose, the plan of the work required it to change, until it had taken the concrete form of the book, which is now before the reader.

In 1922 I sent out a questionnaire sheet to the Yiddish actors, but with a scarce success, one reason being the difficulty in obtaining responses from the Yiddish actors, [and so] I began in 1922 to issue in Lodz a weekly page, "Theatre and the Arts", in order to come into direct contact with the Yiddish theatre world. In the weekly page I published biographies, along with the photographs of Yiddish actors. But due to the economic conditions, the weekly page had to be stopped; this already had stopped the collection of the biographies.

At each time a Berlin publisher led me into negotiations about publishing my planned book; the publisher had made the condition that I should be satisfied with a lexicon of only named actors of importance. I rejected the proposal because that book would be quite something other than what I had wanted to create.

From a newly sent out questionnaire sheet, I received a small number of responses from Poland, and a few from the Yiddish actors in Argentina, sent in thanks to the initiative of the writer L. [Leib -- ed.] Malach, who was there then.

It became clear to me that in order to realize the idea of the "Lexicon", I had to come into personal contact with the Yiddish actors, especially to collect data from them about their deceased colleagues.

As America is in this current day the onlen- hub of the Yiddish stage, I have decided to make America the center of the publication and thither sailed in September 1926. Here the actors and dramatist Max Gabel were the first to help carry out my plan. Thanks to to he who is the editor of the "Forward", Ab. Cahan, who gave us an editorial post in his newspaper for several months, so that I should be able to be in America and collect material. After several weeks we managed to procure several hundred of the "Lexicon" like: Jacob Kalich, Jacob Kirschenbaum, Jean Greenfield (President of the Yiddish Actors Union), and thanks to Reuben Guskin (Manager of the Actors Union) who became impacted by the union mailing (through his recording secretary Hershel Kaufman) of my questionnaire to their members.

Also the Yiddish Dramatic League has, thanks to an initiative by their secretary Nahum Stutchkoff, sent out similar questionnaires.

The Yiddish actors who had already become disappointed several times by similar activities, have still, thanks to the agreement reached with their union, responded to certain measures (Fishl Zinger was the first). And besides their very own biographies, the actors had anshtot the sixty names of older or deceased actors who I have also sought in a basic way from B. Gorin's "History of Yiddish Theatre". We provided the names and partial information for over two hundred actors. That number later became farfilfakht. Especially collaborative, furthermore, were the actor Sidney Hart, who gave over to us the manuscripts that had been handed over by the deceased Joseph Groper, a list of the Yiddish actors of the world.

In the span of eight months in the year 1927, I have in my home residence in Eretz Yisrael, adapted the material that I had taken with me, conducted studies within the theatre department of the university library in Jerusalem, and have maintained a continuing correspondence with many Yiddish writers throughout the world.

So we managed to prevail upon the Yiddish Artists Union in Poland, that it may implement a registration questionnaire for all their members, and that material may be called for so that it may serve as biographies for the "Lexicon".

In Argentina the writer Jacob Botashansky took on the mission to produce biographies of the local Yiddish actors. Then the same work was taken on by the actor Yitzhak Brestovitsky.

In America, the older actors: Cesar Greenberg, Joseph Weinstock, Avraham Fishkind, the journalist Jacob Kirschenbaum, Goldfaden's secretary Yitzhak Libresko, the Broder Singer Sane Shapiro, the theatre collector Sholem Perlmutter, and an entire array of other actors, who prepared for us information about the deceased or former actors.

Having wrought the gathered material, I came back to America in order to finish the collection of the materials and produce the necessary material titles for the publication. Here I hit the dreadful material crisis, which has since then begun in the Yiddish theatre. It had appeared that it is in that impossible moment, something to do. But thanks to the collaboration and assistance of Messrs. Max Gabel, Jacob Kalich, Chaim Ehrenreich, Reuben Guskin and Abe Sincoff, there was the organization for the material support of the "Lexicon".

After an unsuccessful conference, to which there came very few of those who were sought (and mostly only the performers of Maurice Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theatre), that on 4 January 1928, there came a second conference, in which there was created the Publishing Committee of the "Lexicon", which consisted of Max Gabel (Chairman), Jacob Kalich (Treasurer), Ch. W. Groll (Secretary), and Messrs. Reuben Guskin, Samuel Goldenburg, Julius Nathanson and Ab. Sincoff as members.

The Yiddish Actors Union subsequently (per the proposal of Jacob Mestel) made a decision that the "Lexicon" will be issued under their supervision, with the request to appoint an Editorial Committee that may control the material in the genoykeyt of which I am not certain, which was split among Jacob Mestel, Reuben Weisman, Yitzhak Lesh, Reuben Guskin and Jean Greenfield.

At the same time with the subsequent collection of the biographies and other material for the "Lexicon", I began the creation of the budget for the book.

In a meeting of the committee there, a plan was worked on, according to which the publication would cost 13,500 dollars, and it was decided that the price of the book would be ten dollars, but beyond this there may be published a deluxe edition that may cost twenty-five dollars.

The creation of the fund for the publication was organized so that I could take over the subscriber campaign with the Yiddish Actors in America, and with private persons across the American province, and to therefore bring in the sum of 5,000 dollars. The committee further will, through activities and through the creation of subscribers among private persons in New York, produce the other 8,500 dollars.

Very often there also was triggered a negative attitude by certain Jewish actors and private persons who go on as theatre amateurs, [but] we still succeeded thanks to the assistance of the entire Yiddish press in America in creating the determined sum.

But, moreover, I was forced with some people, and this was completely given to me: Louis Goldberg in the Public Theatre, Oscar Green in the Hopkinson Theatre, Rosetta Bialis and Izidor Cashier in the McKinley Square Theatre, Nathan Goldberg in the Prospect Theatre, Anshel Schorr and Harry Hochstein in the Liberty Theatre, Willy Pasternak in the Second Avenue Theatre, Charley Cohan in Gabel's People's Theatre, Abraham Teitelbaum in the Yiddish Art Theatre, and Simon Wolf in the National Theatre. In Newark the director of that theatre Bernard Elving showed much assistance. In Boston the members of the committee for the "Lexicon" Julius Nathanson, who specially traveled thither for that purpose, carried much material helping among the friends of Yiddish theatre. In Cleveland I received assistance from journalist Leon Wiesenfeld. In Chicago interest was shown by Sarah Patt and Joseph Weinstock. In Detroit the director of the local Yiddish theatre Avraham Littman has shown a particular eagerness and fruitful work. In Buffalo assistance was received  by the Wallerstein family. In Toronto, there was assistance with the work by A. Gelberg. In Montreal -- Mr. Hershman. In Asbury Park there was assistance by Chaike and Harry Milberg. An especially warm support the whole time was given by the actress Amelia Adler and her brother Louie Devison.

In 1928 I had, in the interest of the "Lexicon", visited the following countries: France, England, Poland, Galicia, Germany, Rumania, Austria and Lettland (Latvia --ed.), where I collected material, and I carried out a subscription campaign. In some cities there were activities staged for the "Lexicon", in which I spoke about the history of Yiddish theatre, illustrating with scenes from Yiddish repertoire through local Yiddish actors. Also other speakers have spoken menini diuma. Everywhere, local events were a manifestation of the love of Yiddish theatre.

In London, where I have in the library of the British Museum collected data for the "Lexicon", we were shown assistance by Mr. Morris Meyer, Professor Ferdinand Staub, Yehuda Shayak, B. Weinberg and Yitzhak Perkof. The last two later formed the committee for England. Our friend Podruzhnikov and Keyzer assisted in the collection of subscriptions.

In Poland there was a general conference of the Yiddish actors in which a decision was adopted to be active for the "Lexicon", and there was formed a committee of Messrs. David Lederman, Yitzhak Nozyk and Zishe Katz. Here I also exploited several visits to the Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO -- ed.) to enlarge the collection of material. The material situation in Poland appreciated to create an appropriate number of subscribers.

In Galicia help was especially shown by Leon Riz and the actor Yehuda Gutman, who had put together much data about the Galician Yiddish actors.

In Rumania the actor and director Itsikl Goldenberg gave us important information about the older generation of the local Yiddish actors. It is here, as in Galicia, that we managed to collect much data about the Broder- and folk singers. I was given help in Rumania by friends Barbu Lazareanu, Max Breen, Maurice Ziegler and Sh. Iris.

In France there was the assistance for the "Lexicon" by Henri and Regina Lakhtiger.

In Berlin I had, with the help of Benjamin Zuskin, collected the data of guest-stars that were there from the Moscow Yiddish State Theatre. That material was later increased through members of the Zalmen Zylbercweig troupe. Not being able to personally visit the Soviet Union, he appointed for there as correspondent Leon Dushman in Minsk.

In Latvia help was received from the journalist S. Kitay.

I returned to New York on 26 January 1929, for the event of the realization of the publication of the "Lexicon". The editorial collegium had begun to return from their a conference in which I read the writings of the biographies. However, soon after being revealed, this manner of work was not practical, in addition some members generally never got involved in the sessions and were content with giving answers to specific questions that were posed. The subsequent development had fed into it, that the editorial collegium is in fact removed from the work and colleague Jacob Mestel will remain as the sole individual  who will be given to such matters, from instructing to correcting data in the biographies, which are all written by me. He was also about to make some changes in size and he made them, so we began to work together continuously. His work is done with very much exactitude, and he honestly deserves to be called the associate editor of the "Lexicon".

The financial crisis in which the Yiddish theatre in America is at times more stuck in debt, had many disturbances to the technical construction of their activity. Many members of the committee were away from New York, others were here taken up with narrow union matters. Remaining were only a few members of the committee, which became larger with the Messrs.: Jean Greenfield, Ludwig Satz, Joseph Rumshinsky and Maurice Schwartz; however from the entire committee there remains active only Joseph Rumshinsky, Jacob Kalich, Ab. Sincoff and Maurice Schwartz.

The committee has even raised several great sums from subscriptions. There were arranged two activities in New York and one in Argentina, but the slow tempo with which the work had proceeded, covered the publication of the book and continued the expense of the publication, which now had already reached a sum of more than 20,000 dollars.

The economic situation also has made it so the "Lexicon" may not appear in [just] one book, but in several. In the current moment, it is unclear if the entire work will be contained in two or three volumes. In the last volume, comments and corrections will be entered about the biographies of the earlier volume. Also there will be a supplement for those whose biographies were included at random in the earlier volume.

So, despite all efforts, there are not included in the volume the following biographies:

Abelman Benny, Abelman Tsipe, Adler Hymie, Adler Luther, "Unzer vinkl", "Azazel", Eykhen (Dembsky), Achron Joseph, Antsipovitsh, Ostrovsky, Abo, Apelbaum Moshe, Oksman Sh. A., Oksenfeld Israel, Aronovitsh Louis, "Artistish vinkele", Orlovska, Orska Miriam-Rukhl, "Ararat", Orshansky, B., Bogin Shlomo, Badanes Ida, Banderovsky, Borisova (Kompaneyets), Borits Ignats, Buchbinder, Burshtin Yerakhmiel, Burshtin Minnie, Bialagalovsky, Chaim and wife, Biber Sender, Bieli L. S., Blumental Frida, Bendel Shmuel, Bedash Jack, Bernshteyn Leyzer, Brodersinger Sane Shapiro, Bras Chava, Brandesko, Bronshteyn Yekhezkel, Brin Sonia, Gadiner Sh., Gati Harry, Gotlib Leon ("Betsalel"), Goldhaber Morris, Goldenberg Tsilya, Goldring Motl and wife, Garbarzh, Gudelman H., Guzik Yasha, Gzhivatsh, Ginzburg Arnold, Gelade Yitzhak, Gelbert Regine, Ger Lazar, German-Kats, Grosbard Herts, Grinberg L., Dolgopolsky Tsvi, Domb Adam, Dolfman L., Dvorkin Ida, "Dramatic Arts", Halitsh Hadassah, Haskel Leonard, Hoffman Aneta, Hofshteyn David, Hart Ber, "Habima" (Yiddish theatre society in Czechoslovakia), Heylpern Falk, Herbst Leon, Volkenfeld Tillie, Van-Rozen Robert, Wasserman, Vitkover Fishl, Weisman Berl, Weisman Berl, Weisman Hershel, "Vim't", Vin Iva, Vinokur Henye, Vinder Meir, Winters Arthur, Winters Polly, Viner Leibl, Viner-Zilberman Kerry, Vievyorka Avraham, Verite, Zavadnik Max, Zatlavska Manya, Zeydman Morris, Zeyde Chava, Zilberg Yocheved, Zemel, Zhukova, Zhitomirsky, Zhelazo Gd.

Many of the biographies arrived too late, after their letter (biographies beginning with the first letter of surname -- ed.) was published. About others there was very little information, and I asked thereby whether they had information about the subject, to sent it in.*)

As a basis for the biographical page or characteristic of the actor, it was taken from B. Gorin's "History of Yiddish Theatre" and dramatics -- Zalmen Reyzen's "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature". Where, however, it was necessary to pass his pride-filled comments. No kveln of other lexicons or encyclopedias have been employed, because they did not hold any new data.

The "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre": The  biographies of actors, actors-badkhans, Brodersingers and folksingers, dramatists, translators, composers, painters, directors, regisseurs, managers, and also from the theatre groups in dramatic associations.

The system is as follows: All kinds of theatre and their farshteher from Goldfaden, about which there is no biographical facts, will come in a collective article under the name "Fargoldfaden-teater", the same about badkhanim-actors and folksingers, about whom there is no data, individual biographies are based: or on "M. E." (oral response [mindlekher entfer]) or "Sh. E." (written response [shriftlekher entfer]) for a concerned person or persons who have provided the information. Then comes the other kveln. The bracket [ ] signifies an editorial remark. Naturally, the entire bibliography has not been utilized. Almost none of the subjects sized the articles that were published about him. It was my task to search in the New York Public Library (in this connection, I have also received the needed assistance from Dr. Joshua Bloch and his assistant Avraham Berger), the articles about theatre, which were thrown over the tseshtoybte and tserisene older years of the Yiddish press. I have a special effort to note what more bibliography [exists] for the dramatists whose plays were not published, so that it gives an onlen point for the research of Yiddish drama.

Very difficult also was the subject of photographs. Many actors were quite eager to give their younger photographs. Others generally had not given any pictures, and we had to produce the photographs from posters and old newspapers and journals. Especially difficult was the arrival of the pictures of the deceased, and the pictures that arrived were most of the time damaged and torn. That and also the various formats of the sent photographs and the differences in their technical execution have hindered well the use of some good photographs.

Several photographs (as from Shachar Goldshteyn, Aneta and Israel Gradner, Nathan Hamburger) had to be specially redrawn by Louis Markovitsh. The photograph of Gershom Bader was taken according to a drawing by Sh. Raskin, the image of Bel-mkhshbut -- according to a drawing by M. Chagall, A. Veyter's photo -- according to a drawing in his journals.

The composition of that book is a complicated an exacting one, often with the assistance of a "young compositor", and this in full measure is shown by the compositor Daniel Mandel -- why he deserves a "yishar koach (may you have strength!)".

The first volume of the "Lexicon" began to be set in the first days of January 1930 and in order to receive a uniformity, the editors completed it on 1 January 1930, D. H., no geshenishen (aside from death), from after this date there are no more registered. Others are with a bibliography from after this date, which relate to earlier activities.

As an ershtling, the fields are certain that there are disadvantages, especially in data. All hghus and comments will be accepted with thanks.*)

In the belief that with the work will become an important, pioneering work in the field of Yiddish culture, I find exactly how to express my thanks to everyone who has hereto assisted with material or moral support. A special thanks I also owe my wife and child, who have had great understanding for the matter, in family solitude, often being rejected by necessity, in order that the "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" can be created, which I hereby dedicate to them.


Zalmen Zylbercweig

New York, 22 January, 1931.

 


 


 


 

Home       |       Site Map       |      Exhibitions      |      About the Museum       |       Education      |      Contact Us       |       Links

 

Copyright Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved.