« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 328]

Political Parties and Youth Movements in the City

by Mordechai Taburiski

Translated by Sara Mages

Vibrant Zionist life pulsed in Smorgon even though it wasn't a big city. There were many political parties and youth movement in the city, and most of the youth and adults were members of these movements.

The branch of “HeHalutz” [“The Pioneer”] in our city was organized immediately after the First World War when the first refugees returned to the ruined city from the vastness of Russia and began to rebuild it. At the beginning of the 1920s members of “HeHalutz” were sent to Hakhshara [training camps] in Poland, and participated in regional and national conferences. From 1924, and until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, many of them reached Israel. In those years dozens of Halutzim, who received training in kibbutzim in Poland, immigrated to Israel and today they're scattered all over the country. “HeHalutz” opened a broad organizational operation and all the proceeds of the drama club were dedicated to the immigration of members to Israel. In addition, Zionist and cultural activity was conducted among the youth.

 

The chapter of “Hitachdut

[Page 329]

The chapter of “Hitachdut” gathered around it the activists of “Tarbut” school and its teachers. Hebrew was the dominated language in the chapter, and blessed cultural and social activities were also held there. Some members managed to immigrate to Israel until the Holocaust, but the vast majority was destroyed in the terrible period which passed over the city in the years 1941–1944.

The youth movements, “Hashomer Hatzair,” “Gordonia,” and “Freiheit,” which concentrated hundreds of youth, conducted an extensive educational and Zionist work together with “HeHalutz.” They made “pottery” for the Zionist parties and conducted seminars, summer camps and conferences. They educated the youth to life of work, scouting and love of Israel.

Tarbut” school served as an important repository for the youth movements, and the children were taught the value of Zionism and love of Israel. The teachers invested a lot of efforts in this direction despite the financial difficulties of the school which only existed from tuition. It taught the Hebrew language to the youth who studied within its walls. Some of the students continued their education in Hebrew high–schools and seminars. Over time, they continued the tradition of teaching the Hebrew language to the next generation.

The youth movements conducted their activities within the walls of the school. I still remember the chapter of “Hashomer Hatzair” on the ground floor, “Gordonia,” “Hitachdut,” a library for adults and youth, and a hall for performances on the second floor. The building was full, during all the hours of the day and evening, with adults and youth who came to find the content of their life in Zionist and communal activity. Impressive parades, sports activities and scouting games were held in the schoolyard.

[Page 330]

On the other hand, the problem of employment and the continuation of higher education were difficult for the Jewish youth in the Polish towns. A small part of the youth continued their education. Most of them were forced to help their family because of its difficult economic situation.

 

Vitkinya” federation in Smorgon – the Scouts level
Top first row: Magidey Chava, Zigel Dov, Magides Tova, Schwartz Nacha, Kreines Baba, Sutzkever Pola, Rivka, Galperin Chaya, Podolsky Sara, Alprovitz Avraham, Koversky Leah
Second row: Karpel Avraham, Karpel Dvora, Libman Guta, Grinberg Reuven. Jacobson Nechama, Weinstein Rafael, Goldberg Belah, Levin Batya
Third row: Koversky Lusia, Chadash Manya, Kraines Zipora, Pomoznik Leah, Yablonovitz Meir, Danishevsky

 

Hapoel” group in Smorgon

 

[Page 331]

A Polish high–school for commerce was established at the end of the 1920s, and some of the Jewish youth studied there. However, after they completed their studies at this school it wasn't easy to integrate in the life of commerce and services because of the discrimination against the Jews. They couldn't get a government job, even the lowest, and were forced to work as junior accountants in Jewish stores.

The Polish students, who came from out of town and other remote locations, brought the poison of anti–Semitism to our city. I remember the guards that stood next to the Jewish shops and the wild incitement of the farmers who, more than once, planned to carry out a pogrom on market day. Thanks to the relations with some of the non–Jewish residents and the connections with the local authorities, who have taken preventive measures, these plots have been foiled.

The local Jewish youth stood honorably in the battle, and from time to time skirmishes broke out with the anti–Semites. It should be noted that we always had the upper hand.

 

The chapter of “Hashomer Hatzair” in Smorgon

 

This situation continued until the outbreak of the war between Poland and Germany – on 1 September 1941. The Red Army entered the western part of Ukraine and White Russia after two weeks of battles and the German–Russian agreement. The Jews were relieved. Despite the economic difficulties and adaptation to the new regime they didn't have to fear physical extinction. Most of the Jewish youth received government jobs and the children continued their studies.

Most of the youth accepted the reality and aspired to settle down and move forward in life. At that time the Soviet regime was quite liberal towards the Jews,

[Page 332]

all the roads were opened before them and they didn't feel racial discrimination. Those who came from affluent families found it difficult to get a job, but most of them overcame that too. The relations between Jews and Christians have improved. Proper working relations prevailed between them and they spent their free time together.

 

A group of gymnasts coached by Gedushberz

 

This situation continued for a short period, until June 1941. Everything collapsed with the outbreak of the German–Russian war which brought the terrible Holocaust of the Jewish nation. Only a few remained from Jewish Smorgon, survivors of death camps, partisans and those who returned from across Russia. Most of them came to Smorgon and left it immediately because it was completely destroyed and they didn't find a relative and a savior. Most of them moved to Vilna where all the survivors of the nearby towns and the survivors of the Lithuanian Jewry were concentrated. At the first opportunity, after the signing of the Russian–Polish agreement, almost all of them left Vilna for Poland, and from there in various ways Israel.


  [Page 333]

Our Fields and Forests

A. Ish–Ahuvi

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

Ish–Ahuva

 

Of Hechalutz in Smorgon

Our people had forests
We – only young trees
Every forest protected soldiers
Ours protected the guard.

Every forest has old,
Wide crowns of branches
. Under the thick branches
There were wild beasts.

[Page 334]

It is possible that the sun does not cast
Its rays, a prankster.
And thicker become the shadows
In the forest deeper.

Our sun is flowing
Thirstily swallowing rays.
In the earth, the young roots
Seeking sources of water.

And we rejoice like children
When a branch grows bigger,
When the young, green fruit
Is first cut by the knife.

The other forest covers miles
Our – only spans.
However, hope in the heart
Is available therein.


The Market in Smorgon

They come in from the entire region
Gentile men and women in sleds,
And flax, pig hair and hens
They hold inside.

They are traveling to the market,
Which takes place very Wednesday in Smorgon.
And then they all arrive
With the first crow of the hen.

They began to carry around the market:
Cloth, soap, matches, bread,
Waiting a long time for the purchaser,
In the meantime, becoming red from cold.

[Page 335]

The businessmen run to the sleds
Shto maesh, kury, swiny, wolosy, len? [1]
They feel it and they haggle,
Until the gentile shouts, “Pashow von![2]

But the businessmen do not yield,
Until they purchase it
They drive the farmer crazy
And pay him the price.

Everyone drags back a customer
And it is jolly in the shops.
The gentile who has purchased something from another
It is obligatory to accompany him with mocking.

A young gentile sits on a wagon
Having a snack and a drink,
And to the gentile woman opposite him
Casts a wink.

 

The market

[Page 336]

The butchers hire an animal
And make an agreement.
But then the people from Vilna come
And pay more, as if to incite.

Lads come around
Through the streets,
Seeking to earn something
Where to eat.

It was also jolly at the horse dealers
Who replace a bad one with a good one.
They bang with the whips and smile
To demonstrate their might.

The gentile sells his bit of merchandise
Then he goes to the tavern for some liquor
He finishes the last cup
And staggers out to the street.

They hug and kiss
The wife in the middle of the street,
Until they fall off their feet
And they set out on the sled.

Evening, after the market day
The wholesaler demands his many loans,
He closes the window with the shutters,
And counts the money in the silence.

Smorgon has now been sleeping for a long time
The snow continues to fall in pieces,
Only from Banczer's tavern
Does Malinowski the drunk drag himself.

Somewhere from afar, are barking
Dogs tied to chains
Trudging in the snow and glaring
A silhouette, then it disappears.

With his long, thick cane
In his wide, torn coat
Lopej the guard creeps around the market
And watches over the stores at night.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is a mix of Polish / Ukrainian / Russian: “What do you have: hens, pigs, bristles, flax?” Thanks to Lukasz Biedka, project coordinator of the Przemysl Yizkor Book, for his help on this phrase and the following phrase. Return
  2. This means “Go away” in Russian, but has more of the implication of “bugger off.” Return


  [Page 337]

On my “Stage” Smorgon

(A chapter of the history of drama activities in Smorgon)

by Chanoch Levin

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

The beginning of the drama activities / Heshel Wynzinger from Brody / Illusion comes to Smorgon / The window / Shmuel Rodansky – doing wonders / Sofia Juliwana “Mirele Efrat” / The son of the King and the Pauper / Feigele / “The Dybbuk” comes to the city / Roza Szar / Three Gifts / The Light of the Crowns

 

The drama club before the First World War

From left: Avraham Danishevsky, Freda Ajzenstat, Ida Aharonowa, Zlata Ceitlin, Elisheva Jebzorow, the son of Sheina-Saraka, Linka Chazonow, Sara Dniszbesk, Eliezer Meirowicz
Bottom: Natan Rozowski, Yehuda Nianka – Polkes

 

1.

The times of the theatrical activity in our city were like the times of independent consciousness of the youth there. That is to say: on the day that the youth of Smorgon stood on their own, uncovered

[Page 338]

their world, and began to seek their own paths and to involve themselves in the new life that arose in the wake of the various ideological streams at the end of the 19th century – that was the same time at which the drama activities in our city began. The essence of this activity was the desire for fine artistic expression for those spirits who broke through the doors of the new life. In any case, the first initiators found [the theatrical] stage to express themselves with voice or image, dialogue or plot, whether their heart's longing tended to Chibbat Zion or their source of pride was the Bund, or even faith and devotion to the Rock of Israel[1].

The theatrical activities in all forms lasted for nearly a half century, encompassing all strata of the youth in all the ideological streams in Smorgon. The enchanting theatrical tree in the city was not planted with ease. It was a thin sapling whose beginnings and sprouting was clouded in the clouds of legend.

In those days, I was a student who moved to Vilna, the locale of Torah. As a student, I had to write a composition on the topic, “The first buds of Hebrew theater for children in the Haskalah literature.” In addition to the sources in the Strashun Library[2], my mother of blessed memory told me the following instructive story. Not her own story, my mother received it from her father of blessed memory, Reb Shmuel Shimshon Danishevsky, who owned a tanning factory on Vilna Street, where the road split, with one direction leading to the railway tracks, and the other toward Soly, and from there to Oshmyana.

Grandfather, my mother's father of blessed memory, did not produce large hides. He produced a special type of hide from which to make thick soles for shoes, called “filshefner.”

My grandfather was a young man at the time, and was helping his father in the tanning business: whether through the work of his own hands, or through supervising the group of Jewish workers from the town.

One day, a non-local Jewish young man came to the tannery, and requested work. He explained that he had worked in the manufacturing of filshefner from somewhere else. From where? --- Brody. Why did he come from Brody to Smorgon? Something happened, causing the communal administrators [parnassim] to throw him out for mocking them.

How did he mock them? He belonged to that “group of scoffers” known as “Brod Singers.” He would gather together a chorus of lads in the city market to sing verses and to disgrace the communal administrators as “strongmen.” Seeking to root this [mocking] out, the parnassim threatened to damage the livelihood of his father, who was a solitary tanner and earned a meager livelihood. The young man fled for his life. He had heard that far from Brody, approaching the land of Rus, there was a city called Smorgon, the majority of whose inhabitants worked in tanning, earning their livelihoods in an ample rather than a meager fashion. Therefore, he placed his knapsack on his back, took his walking stick into his hand, and now he stood here full height, with his peyos and beard that had not yet sprouted.

[Page 339]

The Hebrew theater in Smorgon before the First World War participates in the performance of “Chana and her Seven Children.”

Top from left: Shmuel Fine, Ida Shulman the sister-in-law of Kalman, Nachum Szapir, Basil Wincz, Aharonow the Russian teacher, Mrs. Szimszelewicz, Kalman, Nachum Szapir, Lyula Chazonow, Kribicki, Nathan Rozowski
Top: Esther Shulman, Genia Abramowicz Helman

His name was Heshel, and his surname was Wynzinger. It is easy for a wise person to understand that deeds of levity, jokes, and games capture the hearts of the workers even more than practical work. The soul of Heshel of Brody especially attracted the soul of grandfather of blessed memory, that is my mother's father, who was a young man at the time. A year after he arrived in Brody, our Heshel demonstrated his capabilities, and the entire “glory of his kingdom”[3] as he played the role of Achashverosh in the Purim play which was performed in my grandfather's tannery, to the enjoyment of the large crowd that filled the factory, which was grey and gloomy all year, but that day was full of joy and light.

At the wedding of my grandfather Reb Shmuel Shimshon Danishevsky to my grandmother Henia, Heshel of Brody served as the jester along with a group of young tanners. They entertained the invitees with a skit called “Beautiful and Gracious Bride,” composed by Heshel in honor of the young couple. Composed from his heart, Heshel wrote melodies to the songs and taught them to the musicians. The house was filled with applause.

This “first performance” of Heshel of Brody was a topic of conversation of people for many days. Furthermore, after the wedding of my grandfather, the rest of the honorable householders asked Heshel to return and perform at the weddings of their sons and daughters, and even offered to pay him generously. Before

[Page 340]

additional facts are revealed (and who knows if [later research] will reveal), we can see in this story the beginning of Jewish theater in Smorgon. The founding father of this [art in Smorgon] was Heshel Wynzinger of Brody – he and none other. Who knows the path of the spirit? Apparently, the merit of Heshel went around, and two of the daughters of Reb Shmuel Danishevsky found their place in the theater – Fania on the national stage in Rostov, and the younger one, Rachel (Rachil) for a short time in Kharkov.

 

2.

Before the end of the 19th century, proclamations were issued publicly in Smorgon:

“To all Jewish men, who are like minded,
There is news in the country, wonderful in our eyes,
For the first time in the community of Smorgon
Illusion has arrived.
In pictures of light, you will see – it is not for naught,
The Western Wall, the remnant of our ancient sanctuary
And the grave of Rachel our Mother on the way to Ephrata
And a redeemer shall come to Zion in our day, now.”
These verses [above] – language of exaggeration; however proclamations in this literal form, written in the vernacular, as well as Hebrew and Yiddish, were affixed:
To the walls the anteroom of the Beis Midrashes of the city.
And on the gates of all the tanneries.
And on Kowarski's liquor distillery.
And on the awning of Barberman's confectionary.
As well as on the hut, which is the government's “Budka.” Budka is a platform in the flower market opposite the Pravoslavic Church, where the collector who collected the market-day tax from the farmers of the area and the Jews who came from the near and far towns sat. The name of the collector was Fuma, and it was said that he was an apostate. The Jews called him, in a mocking manner, Fuma Fumszcyk (landowner).

The people of Smorgon, men, women, elderly, and youth gathered on the date set in the announcements. Even children were not missing from the crowd. Everyone came and gathered in the large hall of Grynhaus-Szimszelewicz, which later became the performance hall of Smorgon prior to the First World War.

 

3.

With the luck of this “illusion” the first movie theater in the town was born, called Gignet. When Jewish Smorgon was “crazy with illusions” and saw in its eyes, and more so in the eyes of its spirit, the Western Wall, Rachel's Tomb, and, to differentiate, acts of juggling in “pleasant pictures on the cloth” -- the wide-branched theatrical activity in all public areas

[Page 341]

of Jewish life began[4]. The first to begin was the Beit HaUlpana in the garden and school of Ivriya. Its entire educational scope was based on theatrics. The grammar book of this institution was called nothing other than “The Garden Theater” of the Gordon brothers, that appeared in Smorgon in the year 5689 / 1929, that is 55 years ago.

There were performances of stories of the Bible, as well as “Living pictures” such as “About the Bird” by Ch. N. Bialik, and “My Soul's Longing” by M. Tz. Maneh, in the Hatikva modern Zionist cheder of the Chovevei Zion committee. The crowning achievement of their performances was a full play in Hebrew called “Hannah and her Seven Children” immediately followed by Goldfaden's “Bar Kochba.” The Hebrew teacher Mordechai Lus, Szinon, Kalman Nachum Szefer, Shmuel Fine, and others were the doers behind this – as well as the actors, who were the students of the modern cheder and older people from the Young Zion circles in our city.

Not long passed before the poor “maidservant,” that is the Yiddish language, was envious of the “mistress” (Hebrew), and gathered all “workers for the Russians,” workers in the factory, apprentices in the workshops, toilers and supervisors in the official offices, some of them Poalei Zion members and others from Bund – and they founded the Drama Club. About 20 male and female youths began to involve themselves in the theatrical works. They read and worked on “Koldonia, “The Witch” of Goldfaden, and prepared it for the stage. For some reason, those people found in that theatrical creation, a complaint against the ignorance of “those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,” and against the oppression perpetrated by various types of wealthy “fine Jews” against their impoverished Jewish brethren.

The group was involved in learning the roles by heart and rehearsing the scenes until the stage performance.

What are the scenes?

Two members appear in a workshop, and discuss:

“Tell me, my friend, what are you busy with now?”<> “I am busy with a scene [atiod]”

“What does that mean, idiot?”

“Not “idiot” but “atiod[5].

“Oh, at.. yod, that is how it is said” – the last one finished off and got back to his work, as he continued to discuss with himself the meaning of the word that had not been explained to him. It seems that the pair, Aharonow and the girl Tania Szapira, found themselves, explained it for themselves, translated it to the actual language, and brought it to the club as a foundation, as the first attempt at theatrical work.

[In the play] there is a point that the two lads are supposed to attack the policeman (on stage, of course) on the market day and take revenge upon him for disrupting the poor peddlers. How was this scene carried out in actual fashion?

One moonless night, the two attacked the “Gordoboy” (local policeman)

[Page 342]

of the city, placed a sack on his head, tied the opening of the sack on the bottom to his belly, dragged him below the bridge, and left him there “groaning.” The next day, they found the “Gordoboy”, released his [tied] bonds, and he could not speak.

It is superfluous to state that our two “actors” carried out their role in the finest possible manner. Why not? Did they not begin from the “scene”?

 

4.

This “consuming fire” of “the players' theaters” did not go without notice by the “kibbutz” of Smorgon, that is the religious scholars, remnants of the Yeshiva of Volozhin, who came to the city. The players joined the studiers to become one group called the “kibbutz.” (See the article elsewhere in the book[6]). At first secretly and later openly, the Yeshiva lads began to involve themselves in the preparations for the play – which one you might ask? They desired no more or no less than “The Travels of Benjamin III” of Mendele Mocher Seforim.

One day already, the hands of the beadles [shamashim] of the city were full of work. The three shamashim were Reb Itzik, the chief shamash of the Great Synagogue; Reb Velvel, the shamash of the Beis Midrash; and his brother Reb Yuda, the shamash of the Kloiz. All of them toiled to take down the posters in the holy courtyards and areas, the print of which was as follows:

“With the help of G-d
Let it be known that on day … of the week of the Torah portion of …
Year … from the creation of the world, we stand
To tell all who come to the hall…
About
The great story of
“The Travels of Benjamin III”
By Rabbi Mendele Mocher Seforim
He is the sword, and he is the scribe, the rabbi of Israel
He is
Sh. Y. Abramovich from Kapyl, currently Odessa
The story will be performed through conversation and gesticulation
And for anyone who does not understand, Tishbi will explain the questions and problems.[7]
If you think that they just spoke these thoughts, you are mistaken; they spoke and carried them out. They performed “The Travels of Benjamin II” in the home of Rish'a in Korska.

 

5.

During the brief period between the end of the First World War and the tragic closing of the final destruction, from 1922 until 1939, [the] new Smorgon that arose

[Page 343]

from its ruins, bustled with great activity. The majority of the youth joined the pioneering vision. The soul of the city residents went out to “the place where cedars are planted.” Within the ranks of Working Land of Israel, the progression of the nation actualized before their eyes – it was a blow on the head like the blow that an angel delivers atop a young tree, saying to it: grow.

In the gloomy huts that were built provisionally immediately after the war, in the cellars of the multi-story Russian houses that were renovated, and in the first houses that were built, the first cells of social and Zionist activity in the city were born.

One group gathered in a certain place and decided on the “program” – and behold, there was Poalei Zion before you. The second group gathered in the Hebrew school in the poorhouse, and behold, the Young Zion party arose, which later became Hitachdut.

Lads and girls would gather together in the evenings, light sooty candles, and break out in song and dance. During the break between the song and dance, they would discuss the “world and what is in it,” as they looked for ways to rectify society in a kingdom of righteousness and peace. At times, when the young Dr. Namiot of Vilna came to visit (Y. Ohel, currently a teacher in Israel) or Tzvi Rozensztajn from far-off Warsaw, the editor of the Hechalutz publication “Heatid”, the youth of Smorgon would gather together, whether from Hechalutz, Young Hechalutz, Gordonia, or Hashomer Hatzair. All the local meeting places were full. Several of them already went to prepare themselves with hard work in anticipation of future aliya. Then, the pioneers would return to Smorgon, with the certificates for aliya arranged and in their pockets.

But where would they find money [for aliya]?

Aside from travel expenses, it was necessary to dress the son or daughter and to prepare a wardrobe. Mother would knit a coat of many colors out of farmer's white linen. Grandmother would put her hands to the muskrat[8], and the older sister would sew undergarments. And Father? He was busy and occupied with issues of livelihood. He would spare his bread to give cash to his pioneering son. However, the handful does not satiate the lion. After all the “bundles” were searched, it was found that they were still missing a great deal.

What did they do? They made a theater.

The youth consulted together and decided to arrange a play in honor of their friend who was making aliya. The income would be dedicated to the travel expenses and other needs.

The drama club that was set up was an umbrella institution for all the organizations of the city. It was the “demilitarized zone” where ideological debates were forgotten, and everyone devoted themselves to the theatrical act, to the poetic word, and to the practical work toward the artistic tapestry that is called a play.

The first meeting place was in the home of the brothers Shmerl and Yisrael (call Izrail) Rappaport.

I was a child and I stood behind the window of the brothers on winter nights. I would stretch my neck and my entire body to peer through the windowpane at what was taking place inside the house.

[Page 344]

Shmerl Rappport walked with confidence, slightly bent. His arms were extended, knocking together, with his low voice. At times his voice thundered, and at times it whispered. His younger brother, Yisrael, who was not blessed with the dramatic voice of his brother, watched him and corrected him here and there. Yisrael Rappaport was an autodidact in the best and complete sense of the term. He was familiar with all streams of Jewish and secular literature. He would frequent people of wisdom, and had progressive ideas. He was the living spirit in all cultural activities of Smorgon.

The child behind the window of the Rappaport brothers stood in wonder and astonishment, and prayed in his heart that he would obtain an “entrance ticket” to the world of “dreams.”

 

The drama section of Hechalutz in Smorgon

 

Mula Rodansky – that is Shmuel Rodansky, the actor in Habima[9] – also belonged to the first group of the Drama Club. He made his debut on the stage in Smorgon, and was the producer of “The Lunatic in the Hospital.” He took the city with a storm, but he made aliya to the Land of Israel immediately after the performance, along with his entire cast. The first pioneers and “actors of Smorgon” were Mordechai Cohen of blessed memory (who forged the image of the eternal matchmaker), Lamdansky, the Weinstein sisters, Rodomin, and others.

They left and others joined the club. Some of them had expert talents who learned the art of the stage. Had the destruction [of Smorgon] not overtaken them, they would certainly have graced the stages of Israel, like their older brother and friend Sh. Rodansky. However, they did not merit.

Woe to that splendor![10]

Later, theatrical Smorgon exposed the Jewish actor Yaakov Gordin, only in the middle of the 1930s. However, we have to consider that the city was in ruins those years, and was empty of Jewish settlement, and “when the cannons thunder, the muses are silent.”

[Page 345]

However, when they found out about Yaakov Gordin, he [i.e. his plays] never left the stage, and they did not pass over even one of his plays.

Gordin's theatrical compositions were not all of a high artistic caliber, and most were composed of motifs foreign to the Jews. Nevertheless, the plays were able to capture the soul of the youths and to quench their thirst for dramatic exposition of the struggles of man and society, with their stormy drama, pathos, and practical lessons.

 

6.

It seems that with Sofia Juliwana (Dniszowska), the city dentist, the esthetic expression of the stage arts blended together with the ideological and educational values of the vision of the artistic creator.

Sofia Juliwana watered the open field in the soul of the youth following the First World War. With her first performance on the stage of Smorgon in the role of Mirele Efrat, in the play of the same name by Yaakov Gordin, she metaphorically brought down nobility from the works of adornment. Before the audience that filled the Intarnat Hall, the Jewish mother stood with her full essence of splendor and pain, with the glory of her life wisdom, with her great love and mercy. The writer of these lines recalls that on that evening when the Song of Songs to immortalize the Jewish mother was sung by Sofia Juliwana, her older sister Sima approached the family matriarch and kissed her on her cheeks…

What does this mean?

It is unclear whether the youth understood the depth of the meaning of the words that her sister said:

“Every mother is Mirele Efrat…”
Thus, Sofia Juliwana Dniszowska ignited in the hearts of both her audience and those who studied her role, the love for the nation, for humanity, and for everything created in the [Divine] image and through the many characters she portrayed on stage.

With her natural refinement, the understanding of her cultural mission in the city, her connection to beauty and goodness, and the grace of her values and influence, she knew how to turn the drama club of Smorgon into a united troupe of actors. Equally important, she wanted to expose to this “small group” of the best of the youth of the city to new horizons, and to teach them, some for the first time, the essence of good prose, of fine poetry, of artistic truth, and proper appearance. She was the one who found and tutored one of the promising young talents: Feigele Leget from the Karke, a settlement of Jewish farmers on the other side of Smorgon. She was an up-and-coming dramatic talent who was forever lost to the Jewish stage due to the tragic events of the Holocaust. The memory of all the female characters whom she played with enthusiasm, energy, and true characterization – characters from Gordin, Sholem Asch, Peretz Hirshbein, and the pinnacle, Leah from Sh. Ansky's Dybbuk, is guarded in the hearts of all who knew her as an anguished monument of artistic glory that has set forever…

[Page 346]

7.

With similar luck, a charmer of short stature [height] was born to the Jewish stage: Asher Galperin (Asherke), with his brief, stormy life. (He and Yisrael Rappaport were tortured to death in one of the cellars of the market warehouses by the Nazi wild beasts.) His essence actualized the legend of the “King and the Pauper” for he was both in his life's situation.

He was the son of a poor family. He started out by delivering newspapers. He went from door to door with a bundle of periodicals and proclaimed their names out loud: Heint and Moment from Jewish Warsaw; Zeit, Der Tag, Vilna Kurier, and Rodio from Vilna, and the only Hebrew weekly, Baderech.

 

The Drama Club before the First World War

 

On the way, as the newspapers were being distributed to the houses, the short, ebullient, alert lad stood, and a group of curious people, youth and adults, gathered around him to find out what news was brought by the newspapers under his arms. Then Asherke began to “perform” the news on the “Daftak” – which was the walking path of the Smorgon promenade on Vilna Street, whose name later changed to 3rd of May.

Next to the city announcement pillar, opposite the clock fragment and Yisrael Itzi's coffeehouse, was the “bourse” of young Smorgon, where all the world's problems were dissected for the rod or for grace.

Asherke Galperin performed his first roles in the cast through the newspaper and the monthly: libel of the day, and a curse upon me if

[Page 347]

the “Comedy of Art” was not performed on the streets of our city with the improvisation of the newspaper deliverer, a poor lad who turned into a “son of a king” at that time.

At the time, he was not aware of the meaning of this vernacular [or worldly] concept, just as he was missing many fundamental concepts. Asher Galperin did not acquire organized education. Everything he knew later, and he knew no small amount, was acquired through his own power. With time, this “newspaper deliverer” became an agent for newspapers and books in the city. There was a veritable library in his house. He was engrossed with his library during any free hour. He had a large collection of plays in their original [language] and in translation, organized by topic.

His first performance on stage was in the play “The Man from Vilna.” His acting was a topic of conversation among the youth of the city for many days after the performance. They prophesied greatness for him, and several fans even wanted to send him to the Young Theater of Warsaw, which was famous in the Jewish world at that time. However, words had limited help, and the prophecies of greatness were fulfilled only within the bounds of the town.

This platform is too small to detail the names of all the lead roles in tens of plays that were forged with unusual ability by the amateurs in a remote town that lived its life in the wake of the events and currents of the Jewish world in the third and fourth decades of the 20th century. Nevertheless, we cannot pass over some of them: the roles of Chanan and the Rabbi from Miropol in the play, The Dybbuk by Sh. Ansky[11].

 

8.

This is the story of the Dybbuk that entered the town:

During the 1930s, a young man named David Kac came to live in town. He was a native of Smorgon, but he spent the war years with his family in Vilna. He received his knowledge and education from the Real Gymnasja in the Yiddish language. He spent time with the Yiddish “sages” of Vilna.

He gained education and knowledge of the stage after spending several years in the studio of the Vilner Troupe, as one of the up-and-coming participants in the artistic Jewish theater. His arrival in Smorgon was a juncture in the drama activities of the city. This juncture was expressed by the raising of the artistic level of the Drama Club, and the search for new manners of theatrical expression.

He brought with him two plays, The Dybbuk and The Book of Stage, from his membership in the Vilna Troupe. Performing this great, classic play in a provincial city was a very daring act. Dovidl Kac struggled with this material and mastered it. Were it not for the powers of the Drama Club, and their enthusiasm and desire to measure up to the new [ideas], who knows if the theatrical talents of the youth would have been sufficient. In any case, he spent days and nights in rehearsals of this play. David Kac played the leading roles of Chanan and the Rabbi of Miropol.

Leah[11] – Feigele Leget, shall be remembered positively.

[Page 348]

Sender Brinitzer[11] – Shmerl Rappaport and others.

The actor Y. Wislic from the Vilna Troupe was present at the opening performance, and issued full praise for the performance.

David Kac saw that he had someone upon who he could depend. He transferred his roles to Asher Galperin. The latter raised the two roles to a such a level that the producer of the play was astonished at the abilities he displayed – until he concluded:

“I do not have anything to do on the stage when Asherke is standing on it…” The “hammer” found its faithful “anvil.”
At the end of the 1930s, David Kac left the city and crossed the border to Russia. He worked in the Jewish theater in Kharkov during the few “good years” for Jewish culture in the Soviet Union. When this culture was destroyed, he was also lost in the depths of oblivion. His tracks [of his life] were lost.

 

9.

For a long time thereafter, “theatrical” Smorgon drew its substance from the remnants of the stage “feast” of the young “rabbi” – that is David Kac. The sparks of his art showered down with the light of teaching in the artistic endeavors of the city.

After him, it was impossible to return to Y. Gordin as before, even though the light stage[12] in Smorgon received an infusion of energy during those years in the personality of the actress Roza Sar-Pocznik, who originated from Smorgon and returned there from the Folks Theater of Vilna. She knew the “Smorgon of on High”[13], for the artistic reality and the characteristic value of the theater was not in the light operettas such as Yankele or Blumen-Kenigen [Flower Kings] that were performed, not without talent, to the enjoyment and appreciation of the audience – hidden in the best of popular song and story that was dressed up in festive garments of beauty and truth in the creations of Y. L. Peretz and Shalom Aleichem.

After the Drama Club stood for this opinion, it attempted to impart its path and knowledge to the young guard of the stage of Smorgon.

As a final, orphaned echo of the drama activities in the city, there was the performance of the stories of Y. L. Peretz: “From the Head of the Dying Man” and “Three Gifts.” The writer of these lines adapted the literary material and give it a theatrical form, and A. Galperin paroduced the “Young Guardian” of the Drama Club.

It seems that Y. L. Peretz never spoke to the hearts of the youth as he spoke at that time on the stage in the Intarnat Hall of Smorgon. The displaced Jewish soul searched for the “gifts” to bring them to the Throne of Glory: a bag of soil from the Land of Israel, the modest covering of a Jewish girl saturated with her blood, and the thread from the yarmulke of a Jew who had become a martyr [Sanctified the Divine Name], the actualization of the love of G-d, the modesty of the daughters of Israel, and the love of the Land of Israel.

Then, on the day of the physical destruction, sparks flew, of course, as in the eyes of the audience of “The Additional Soul” of the Jewish people that is never destroyed; on the day of the physical destruction, sparks escaped from this soul to become the lights in the crown of the Holy One Blessed be He, and in the crown of creation.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. This last sentence states, in very flowery language, that those interested in artistic expression may have come from Zionist backgrounds, non-Zionist Bund backgrounds, or even religious backgrounds. Return
  2. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mattityahu_Strashun Return
  3. Paraphrased from Esther 1:4. Return
  4. This early move theatre screen was probably made of cloth. Return
  5. A play on words. Return
  6. See page 95. Return
  7. A rabbinical reference to the belief that all unanswered questions from the Talmud will be answered by Elijah the Prophet (the Tishbi) upon his return. Return
  8. i.e. she would prepare furs. Return
  9. Mula is a nickname for Schmuel; Habima is the national theater of Israel. Return
  10. i.e. to that splendor that was lost. Return
  11. A role in The Dybbuk. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dybbuk Return
  12. Light state here probably references lighter entertainment or lighter productions. Return
  13. i.e. The sublime Smorgon: a takeoff of the Jerusalem of Above or the Heavenly Jerusalem, in contrast with the earthly Jerusalem. Return

 

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Smarhon, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Binny Lewis
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2019 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 15 Nov 2018 by MGH