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[Page 229]

Yiddish Theater

by Itshe Akhtman, Canada

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

In about 1910-1914, amateurs began to perform Yiddish theater. At first, they produced J. Gordon's plays. In as much as the amateur ensemble at first consisted principally of those who had been captured by tendencies toward assimilation and spoke more Russian than Yiddish at home, the first performances were weak. There were amateurs who did not even understand the text of the plays. Later, these circles were enlarged by the general public and workers.

At this opportunity, it also must be remembered that in 1909-1910 a young man from Chelm named Abraham Diker (Fitshke's son) who had musical and theatrical abilities gathered children 10-15 years of age and presented Goldfaden's Akeydes Yitzhak [The Sacrifice of Isaac].

The performance with the children and with amateurs under the direction of Abraham Diker had great success and was performed in Chelm's largest theater, Sirena, and, also in Zamocsz, Hrubieszow and in other cities.

In 1915, after the occupation by the German-Austrian powers, a musical-dramatic section was created of young men and girls, who had the insight and taste for music and literature. Those families with musical abilities were: Luksenburg, Ilywicki; the Herc family had artistic abilities.

The above mentioned section presented the plays of Sholom Alecheim, Peretz Hirshbein, Dovid Pinski, Fishl Bimko, A. Gordon and so on.

Conditions were difficult for Yiddish theater under the German-Austrian occupation. It was necessary to apply great energy in negotiating the receipt of


Dramatic Circle in Chelm

[Page 230]

permission from the occupying forces to present theater. In addition, there was fear, in general, of gathering in one place or walking the streets, people fearing that they would be taken for forced labor.

But risks were taken and Yiddish theater was presented. All of the seats in the large galleries of the Sirena Theater were occupied when a Yiddish theater presentation or a musical-artistic evening took place.

* * *

The Yiddish theater developed robustly after the war. Artistic vitality in Chelm increased and famous Jewish artists from abroad and from larger Polish cities would visit Chelm very often.

* * *

Text of Poster:


Tuesday, on the 20th of the month, one performance
presented by local art lovers will take place under the title

Sholom Aleichem Evening
with the following program:

1) A memorial service presented by the choir

2) Tsezeht Un Tseshpreht [Scattered Far and Wide]
Comical picture in three acts by Sholom Aleichem


Meir SzalantMr. M. Boim
Talcha his wifeMiss R. Herc
FloraMiss M. Feder
MotvejMr. B. Naturman
HaimMr. Sh. Brekher
ValadjiMr. D. Herc
HanaMiss Sh. Alergand
MoshkaB. Herc
Moshe Zajensztater – Szalanter's in-lawMr. A. Cikel
Itela his wifeMiss T. Herc
Pesela, poor relativeMiss Sh. Helfer
Dowid'le, Matvei's friendMr. G Herc
Beni with a parasolMr. Y. Akhtman
Masha, a maidMiss T. Herc

3) Agenten [Agents]
A comedy in one act of Sholom Aleichem


Menakhem Mendil, seller of Shabbos candles and wineMr. A. Cikel
Mark LamternisherB. Naturman
Akim BakfiszY. Akhtman
Lazar TerkeltoibM. Boim

and 4) The Poet's Own Songs
Prompter Kh. Feder Arranger Y. Akhtman
Printer M. Wajnsztajn, Chelm


Facsimile of a Poster

* * *

[Pages 231-232]

Facsimiles of various programs from the Yiddish theater, performed by amateur efforts in Chelm


Facsimile of a Poster


A play performed by the local amateurs in the years 1920-1921
Theater hall, “Polanya,” one of the local theater halls where Yiddish theater and Yiddish lectures were often presented. The building was built by the German occupying government during the years 1916-1917.


[Page 233]

About Posters in Yiddish at the First Anniversary
of the Death of Sholem Aleichem

by Berl Naturman, Canada

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

In 1916, Poalei Zion [Marxist Zionists] already had its own choir, orchestra and a dramatic society.

When it was learned that the great Yiddish classical writer and brilliant humorist, Sholem Aliechem, had died, we, the dramatic society, decided to stage his play, Tsezeyt un Tseshpreyt [Scattered and Dispersed] at the shloshim [30th day after a person's death] of his death. We rehearsed intensely then at the Toybele Herc's house from 10 o'clock in the morning until the start of the evening because we were not supposed to be in the street at night.

We ordered posters from Wajnsztajn's print shop several days before the 16th of May, when the memorial evening for Sholem Aleichem was to take place.

Every public advertisement or announcement had to be shown to the county commandant according to the law of the occupying regime to receive approval from the commandant before it could be published.

Suddenly Mr. Wajnsztajn out of breath came running from the commandant to us with the news that they would not let us publish the posters unless we remove the Yiddish text.

However, we could not permit ourselves to dishonor Sholem Aleichem's name and not use any Yiddish text.

I, the writer of these lines, Itshe Actman and Avraham Honig went to Anshl Biderman to help us in some way. We gave Biderman a complete lecture about Sholem Aleichem's creations for the masses. However, he stood up and said: “Gentlemen, do not use any “foreign words” with me. I cannot persuade anyone because a law is a law.

We remained puzzled as if bathed in a cold shower. There remained for us only to say good night and leave.

When we reached the street we again began to think about what to do. One of us said that maybe we should go to the commandant ourselves and try to explain to him the significance of the evening and so on. We three all looked and without spelling out things immediately agreed that we would do this and we really did go straight to the commandant.

The commandant's headquarters was near the Russian cathedral where we had to pass a separate guard and identify ourselves. Two private secretaries sat in the entry-room to the commandant's office, who did not permit entry to both those with special, important assignments or with high recommendations as to their political legitimacy. In addition, they had to show precisely what it was a question of, so that. God forbid, the master would not be disturbed with superfluous matters.

Hearing why we had come, the other one entered a terrible fury, understand that such rascals as we dared to disturb the commandant with such an unimportant trifle. The commandant to complete such important matters, such as supervising the royal and imperial city matters and do we not know that his majesty is involved in a bloody war with Russia on so on and so on. With luck one of the secretaries also was an amateur actor who had appeared several times with Polish amateur societies, and had really excelled in the role of the father in a play by [Stanisław] Przybyszewski. He interceded for us and said that he himself would enter the office of the commandant and if he found him in a good mood would ask him to welcome us.

We waited and the few minutes seemed to us like an eternity. We were afraid that he would send up away to forced labor or even worse, that we would be honored with a portion of blows from which we already felt the pain as well as the shame. While we stood so despondent and already having regret for the entire matter, the office door suddenly opened and no other than the commandant himself appeared, taller, thinner, clean shaven, the Count Pan Żaba and with an almost unfortunate helpfulness invited us into his office and he turned to us and he asked the secretary to have us state what this was about.

Understand that we did not take long to answer and we stated what this was about, that we were leading a gathering for the great Sholem Aleichem who had died not long ago and as he was a great Yiddish poet who always wrote for the Jewish people, it would be a great dishonor for him if the poster was not printed in the language in which he created. And we brought him proof and citations from Heine, Geothe and Börne and others and looking over everything with the secretary who shook his head in agreement at what we said. He suddenly turned to us in an affable tone he said: “You have permission. I will be at the performance myself.”

We remained standing in bewilderment, as if forged to the earth, no being able to understand what had happened here. However, the secretary came to our aid and as if we had awakened from sleep let us know that the audience was over and we had permission to print the poster in Yiddish, too. Thus did we, young men, unconsciously and unknowing that we were Yiddishists in the present sense of the world, winning a great victory for Yiddish.[1]

Translator's footnote:

  1. A Yiddishist is a person who advocates for the use of Yiddish and for Yiddish culture. Return


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