The Remarkable Zalmen Zylbercweig
and his Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre


A Short History of Zalmen Zylbercweig
The Story Behind the Man

Zalmen Zylbercweig

Zalmen was born on 27 September 1894 in
Ozorków, a town not far from Łódź, Poland. In 1896 Z.'s father took the family over to Lodz when Z. was only two years old. There Z. studied in the rooms of cheders.

Z.'s father was a merchant, a cultured man, who had written from time to time for "Hatsfirah", and in 1907 he published weekly feuilletons under the pseudonym of "Tzvi"h" in the "Łódź nachrichten (Lodz News)". Here he became an official co-editor.  As a child Z. was popularly known in the city as a "shiri-tsyon-zinger (Songs of Zion singer)."

In 1905 Z. worked in the first local modern Yiddish bookstore that his father was the owner of, where he would surround himself with Hebrew, Yiddish and translated European literature.

Afterwards he would study songs of the yeshiva for a half-year, then he worked for a short time as a laborer on a farm in Czestochowa. Later Z. studied privately with a teacher, and he became a trade employee for various companies.

In 1910 Z. made his debut under the pseudonym of "Solomon", with a translation in the "Łódźer morgenblat" newspaper, as well as various other publications.


Following his inclination to the theatre, Z. soon completed his first Yiddish theatre translation for a live-action play named "Kin". Later he participated in Hebrew, then later in Yiddish amateur productions, and he also founded an "amateur circle" in 1912.

From 1915 to 1924 Z. was a collaborator and later a co-editor at the "Łódźer tagenblat" and published many critical articles and reviews of Yiddish theatre productions. In 1922 he edited and published (together with Lazar Kahan) the weekly "Theatre and Cinema". Afterwards, Z. by himself edited and published the weekly page "Theatre and the Arts". In 1923 (again together with Lazar Kahan) he translated this weekly page.

In 1924, Z. traveled to Eretz Yisrael as a correspondent for the Yiddish newspaper and spent several years there. He then moved to the United States, from where in 1927 be traveled throughout Europe and North and South America, seeking information about the Yiddish theatre.

He settled in New York in 1937, then moved to Los Angeles, California, where he lived for the rest of his life. He and his wife Celia, with whom he married in 1947, built a studio in the back of their home and broadcast their own Yiddish-language radio program from 1949 to 1969. Broadcasts of these programs will become part of the Museum of Family History's "On the Air!" own program, which will introduce not only the Zylbercweig radio programs, but other "old-time" radio programs as well.

Z. was also the editor or author of more than thirty books relating to Yiddish culture and history. He is most often remembered today as the editor of the six-volume "Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre)", a compendium of more than 2,800 Yiddish-language biographies and histories of those individuals and now-defunct theatrical organizations who were once involved in some fashion with the Yiddish theatre. Volume 1 of the Lexicon was published in 1931; Volume 6 in 1969. His unpublished volume 7 still remains in galley form, as Z. passed away in 1972, and the hopes of publishing this last volume has long since faded (though it is available via a link within this exhibition). Volume 5, published after World War II, is the Lexicon's memorial edition, consisting mostly of nearly five-hundred biographies of those who were killed during the World War II at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.

The Early Years of Zalmen Zylbercweig >>



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