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The World of Yiddish Theater in France
By Pnina Rosenberg

Dr Pnina Rosenberg is the art curator in the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum and a lecturer in the Oranim Academic College, Israel. She has published widely in the fields of art during the Holocaust and recently on Yiddish culture in Interwar France. Her publications include L’art des indésirables: l’art visuel dans les camps français (L’Harmattan: Paris: 2003); “Mickey Mouse in Gurs: Graphic Novels in a French Internment Camp”, Rethinking History, 6 (3) (2002)."Art During the Holocaust", Encyclopaedia Judaica, (2006). "Estranged Life: The Life Immigrant Jews in Interwar Paris as Reflected in the Oeuvre of Yosl Cukier", Khulyot – Journal of Yiddish Research 9 ( 2005). e-mail : danielro@oranim.ac.il 

[In the Yiddish theater] no raising of the curtain, no three knocks on the stage, and not even the opening lines, can announce the beginning of the play, for the temperament of the audience is such that, despite the opening lines, they cheerfully continue their conversations. If a stranger […] were to enter the auditorium at that moment he might, mistakenly, assume that some members of the audience did not understand Yiddish and therefore needed to have the action of the play explained to them. However, he would rapidly realize that most of the conversations had nothing at all to do with what was happening on the stage, so much so that one could ask oneself why the play on the stage was so determined to start when clearly the play among the audience was by no means over! […] The competition in the world of the Yiddish Theater is not with the other theaters but with the audience. [1]

This portrayal of the connection between the play and the audience describes theYiddish Theater in Paris in the 1950s but could easily have been applied to this theater ever since it opened in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Itzik Manger, in the introduction to a book on Yiddish theater between the two world wars, points out that Yiddish theater is one of the most recent among world theaters and, like Yiddish language and literature, is the fruit of the creativity of Eastern European Jewry. "In every Jewish settlement, large of small, the stage lights were lit, and a play (a Spiel) performed, an orgy of laughter and tears, a sparkling carnival of masks. Who could possibly forget? Can we allow ourselves to forget?" [2]

The World of Interwar Yiddish Theater in Paris From the End of the 19th Century to the End of the First World War [3]

Goldfaden in Paris

The Jewish immigrants and refugees from Eastern Europe living in Paris between the two world wars were the main clientele of Yiddish theater, which had existed previously in their home countries. During this period, undoubtedly the heyday of Yiddish theater in Paris, both professionals and amateurs would perform, as well as visiting theater troupes from Europe and the USA.

Before this population was large enough to support its own local company they enjoyed guest artists and troupes who included Paris in their itineraries. In December 1888, after appearances in Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and England, the Russian-Yiddish Drama and Operetta Company, run by Leizer Yakobovitch and Kempner, came to Paris and performed, among other things, Two Kuni Kemel by Goldfaden. [4]  His plays were a sensation, attracting a large and varied audience. In addition to Jewish  immigrants "from the Hôtel de Ville to Montmartre," [5]  the audience included French Jews, as well as non-Jews. One of these famous figures was Éduard Drumont, well-known for his anti-Semitic writings (La France juive, 1886). The plays were enthusiastically reviewed both in the French-Jewish press (Univers Israélite; Archives Israélites de France) and in French newspapers (Le Temps). The theater critic of Le Temps ended his review by calling on the public to go and see this popular theater that performed in the comic Aristotelian style. [6 ] Yet at the same time, as Zosa Szajkowski, an authority on Paris Yiddish theater, has pointed out, objections to the plays also appeared in the French-Jewish press, as performing plays in Yiddish was deemed to be a vestige of more "barbaric" times, [7]  with too much emphasis on Jewish themes.

A substantial part of the critique centered on Goldfaden, his works and his contribution to Yiddish dramaturgy, thus when he came to Paris in person for the first time in 1889, his reputation was already established.[8] He founded a company called the Yiddish-Russian Dramatic Society (Club Dramatique Israélite-Russe) whose performances attracted great crowds. Yet the new immigrant population, which represented the lion's share of its audience, was not large enough to provide the economic base for a permanent theater company and in October 1890 Goldfaden left Paris for Galicia. However this first attempt did not deter him and in 1900 he returned to Paris with the hope of setting up a permanent Yiddish theater. This too ended in failure. He became involved in the Zionist circles in Paris and was even sent as their delegate to the Zionist Congress held in London in August 1900. His close connection with these circles was not well received by left-wing Jewish activists who found his plays not to their liking. In 1903 he left Paris empty-handed. [9]

Despite the fact that Goldfaden did not succeed in realizing his ambitions, his visits are considered the beginnings of Yiddish theater in Paris. This was clearly manifested in the celebrations held in March 1939 for the fiftieth anniversary of his arrival in Paris. The participants included Itzik Manger and Nathan Frank, who spoke about Goldfaden and his historic visit: In honor of the jubilee of the visit by the father of Yiddish theatre […] who was the first person to try to establish a permanent Yiddish theater company in Paris […] the Paris branch of YIVO-The Institute for Jewish Research has organized a ball to be held in the theater at 10, Rue Lancry, where, thanks to Goldfaden himself, Yiddish plays have been performed for the last fifty years. [10]

Drama Groups and their War on Schund

As early as the first decade of the twentieth century, amateur theater groups and drama clubs were founded in Paris with connections to social organizations and political parties. According to Szajkowski, these groups and their battle with the Schund culture of the professional theater reveal the entire history of Yiddish theater in Paris. [11] Drama groups affiliated to workers organizations had existed in Paris since around 1902 or 1903. On 29 November 1903 a group of amateur actors put on Minna or, The Ruined Family from Downtown, a play by Leon Kobrin (1872-1946),[12]  which unleashed an attack against the Schund theater:
Minna is a play that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the old-fashioned farces that are mostly performed on the Yiddish stage ... If you want an inspiring experience, come to see our play […] Instead of the traditional characters that you have seen in the Yiddish theater up to now ― exaggerated and unrealistic heroes, telling stupid jokes ― you will find authentic characters, taken from real life, your life, without artificial affectation. [13]

The group that performed Minna broke up shortly afterwards into three drama groups: Freedom, run by anarchists; The Free Yiddish Stage, belonging to the "Poalei Zion" and The Free Yiddish Workers' Stage under the auspices of the "Bond." The group called Freedom, when it staged Leon Schechter's play Family Life, a drama based on life in Paris, wrote in its publicity material: In Minna it was our intention […] that the play […] would touch our audience's soul […] We were not without trepidation that the Parisian audience, used to seeing on the Yiddish stage only hollow characters and farcical plots, […] would not understand the importance of real drama. With Minna, which was widely acclaimed, we were convinced that Jewish audiences are still able to appreciate something good, real drama. [15]

Despite the dispute over the two types of theater, members of the drama groups sometimes helped professional actors in their resistance to the Schund. In 1908 Sam Goldberg, an actor performing with a troupe belonging to Sczerman and Bodenson, was attacked because he protested against Sczerman's cheap jokes on stage. The workers' drama groups supported him and helped him stage Jean and Marlene (21 June 1908). In the publicity material for the play he wrote:
A few days ago it became clear what had been going on behind the scenes at the Eden Yiddish Theater […] It upset me very much that the audience did not realize that they were being tricked and made fools of. […] I was one of them, but I was not afraid of the owners, Sczerman and Bodenson, and protested as loudly as I could, for which I was rewarded with insults and curses. But do not fear, comrades, that this will shut me up. Maybe I will no longer be a professional actor, but I will fight to the utmost against this filth and cynicism […] so that they will disappear, leaving only real, literary theater, which will not play on the emotions of the audience … The audience must be served healthy food, not drugs. Long live art! [16]

Long before the First World War there were two drama groups in Paris whose intentions were to stage quality plays. One was active in 1913, performing in a café with a hall and a stage at 47 Rue de Bretagne, in the third quarter. The other one, known as The Literary Theater, operated during 1912-1913, at 9 Rue de Prague, in the twelfth quarter. Both of these theaters were in predominantly Jewish areas. The Literary Theater was set up and financed by Isaac Rirachovski, well-known in art circles, who was also involved in publishing a socialist newspaper, without too much success. [17] The first play they put on was A Day in Our Life, by Andrejev. Later they performed plays by Tolstoy and Gordin (Elisha ben Abuyah), a repertoire that was in line with that of drama groups in Eastern Europe. [18]

The founding of the Peretz Theater by Rirachovski in 1915 represented the most significant attempt to set up a serious Yiddish theater in Paris. He insisted that in this theater the content of the plays was of great importance and there would be no Schund. It had all the trappings of a serious theater. There was a committee to decide on the repertoire, which included central figures from the world of Jewish culture in Paris, including M. Yarblum, A. Rosenfeld, and Itzhok Laks. In October 1915 they performed, among others, Gordin's play God, Man and the Devil, and Jews by Tshirikov. All the Yiddish actors who lived in Paris at that time took part  in these productions. Despite the good intentions and the enormous efforts that were invested in the Theater, it survived only for a brief time. The growing debts it incurred led to its closure after only two months. [19]

Pennie Vaxman, [20] who set up her own theater company in that same year, wanted to buy from Rirachovski the right to use the name of the theater, but was refused. Rirachovski was not prepared to allow Schund, the mainstay of her repertoire, to be performed in the Peretz Theater. He called a meeting of all the actors and, in the words of Gogol's hero, declared " I gave birth to you and I will kill you,"[21]  and with that he closed the doors of the theater.

The Interwar Period

Although the Yiddish-speaking Jewish population of Paris grew after the war, it was not wealthy or strong enough to support a serious Yiddish theater. Local theatrical activity was largely based on the amateur drama groups, which left an open field for the Schund.

The Professional Theater

Many professional and commercial theater troupes were set up in Paris during the 1920s. In 1921 Henry-Henrik Lachtinger [22] and his wife, Regina Viner, began to perform in Paris. Within a year they had a company of their own, with several popular actors, including David Seiderman, Chana Lerner, Regina Tsuker (Shvartzstein) and Karl (Akiva)Tsimbalist.[23]  From 1932 they performed mostly in the Mutualité hall and by the outbreak of the Second World War, Lechtinger had become the "king" of Schund in Paris. Despite their tradition of performing light-hearted plays, on several occasions their repertoire included serious dramas such as Sergeant Grischa by Arnold Zweig, Hasidim by Abraham Veviorka with Rudolph Zaslavski and The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, with Ida Kaminski and Zigmund Turkov.[24]

In 1929 the Kampaneits theatrical family settled in Paris and founded The Kampaneits Warsaw Theater. This family of actors included the parents, the sons, the daughters and their husbands.[25]  Local actors appeared alongside the members of the family, including David Levin, Moskovitsh, Pierkarnik, Friedenrich, Moshe Zweigenbaum and Yaakov Shefer. Members of the Kampaneits family also took part in plays performed by other actors who arrived in Paris, such as Julius Adler and Rudolph Zaslavski. [26] These plays largely took place in the Cirque d'Hiver.

The repertoire of their theater was very varied, including plays such as Babe Yachne, Dreams of Love, His Jewish Girl, Sprintze- The Pimp of Odessa, Pintschever in Chicago [27] as well as classical dramas like Schiller's The Robbers, Strindberg's The Father and Uriel da Costa by Karl Gutzkov.
Their productions were extremely popular and they appeared nightly in large Paris auditoriums, such as the Palais Dramatique close to the Place de la République, the area where most of the Jewish immigrants lived, and also Eldorado. Szajkowski writes that there were great hopes that this theatrical dynasty would improve the state of the Yiddish theater in Paris, but they did not manage to break out of the tradition of the Warsaw Schund. [28]

On several occasions professional actors worked together with amateurs to put on high quality plays. On 21 March 1919 the Lancry Yiddish Theater Group performed at 10 Lancry St., becoming synonymous with Yiddish theater in Paris. The group, which included Berish Unterman, staged Shalom Ash's play God of Revenge. On 4 January 1925 a play by George Courteline (1858-1929), La Paix chez soi (1903) was produced, which portrays with great irony the absurdities of bourgeois life. It was adapted to Yiddish by H. Friedler and the cast included Israel Marchevke, Enden, Rachel Rosenfeld, Miss Henrik Morei and Max Dayan. [30]
The Yiddish theater in Paris, therefore, managed to go beyond the conventional repertoire by including French plays, often canonical, such as Hugo and Zola, but also other plays that suited their world outlook. Thus they sought to become part of the French cultural scene, without losing their Yiddish roots.

Visiting Theater Troupes in Paris

Between the two world wars Paris became an important stop on tours by theater troupes and individual actors, who came from Eastern Europe and the USA.

Di Vilner Troupe (The Vilna Troupe)

newssheet urging people to attend their performances. Some of the members of the Vilna Troupe remained in Paris, greatly enriching the life of the theater there, as they took an active part in the amateur drama groups, both as actors and producers.

Maurice Schwartz and his Theater Company

Maurice Schwartz [32 ] and his New York Yiddish Kunst Teater appeared in Paris in 1924 for a number of weeks at the Édouard Sept Theater. Among other plays they staged Tevye the Milkman by Sholom Aleichem and Dark Laughter by Sherwood Anderson. In June 1938 Maurice Schwartz returned to Paris with a smaller group, which led him to take on several local actors, including Rosa Ornstein, Moshe Zwiegenbaum and Pola Lobelski. Maurice Schwartz appeared with great success in the play Yoshe Kolb by Yakov Preger, The Brothers Ashkenazi and The Water Carrier by I. Singer, Tevye the Milkman by Sholom Aleichem and others. The productions by Maurice Schwartz and his company in their many visits to Paris drew a great deal of attention from both Yiddish and French theater circles, even enjoying considerable write-ups in the Parisian press. [33]

June 1938 saw the centennial of the first performance of the French Jewish actress Rachel (Élisabeth Rachel Felix, 1821-1858) at the French national theater, the Comédie Française. In the Yiddish newspaper Parizer Haint Maurice Schwartz called upon all Jewish actors and actresses to pay their respects at her graveside.[34] Kornhchandler notes that this was the first time Jewish actors had laid flowers on her grave. A year and a half later (October 1940), her statue was removed from the Musée Carnavalet – Musée de l'Histoire de Paris because she was a Jew.

Joseph Kestler

In 1924 the American Yiddish actor Joseph Kestler arrived in Paris with his theater troupe.[35] Like the Vilna Troupe, he too hired the prestigious Théâtre des Champs Elysées. However, after a number of productions, when the theater management saw the kind of repertoire and acting style, the contract was cancelled. Kestler moved his company to the Palais Dramatique, in a more proletarian, Jewish area. [36]

This was not the only case of unpleasantness connected to his sojourn in Paris. A group of actors published "a call to Yiddish actors and actresses and friends of the theater all over the world" against Kestler, who used to hire actors and then abandon them. They maintained that Kestler, a product of North American culture, had arrived in Europe and brought misery to dozens of actors and actresses, by exploiting them, damaging their morale and causing them to lose their livelihood. In February 1929 actor Israel Birnbaum wrote to Warsaw that Kestler simply disappeared one day without paying. His disappearance was so sudden that the cast, who knew nothing about it, continued to turn up for rehearsals, finding out only some considerable time later. [37]

The Moscow Yiddish Chamber Theater

The Moscow Yiddish Chamber Theater, under the direction of Alexander Granovski,[38]  was widely acclaimed during their visit to Paris in 1928. They staged The Sorceress by Goldfaden and Two Hundred Thousand and The Brief Travels of Benjamin the Third by Mendele Moikher Sforim. These were grandiose productions on a scale never previously seen in the Yiddish theater. Lively discussions took place among the audience during the interval. In response to this public interest actor Shlomo Michoels held lectures about work of the Chamber Theater in the basement hall and in a café in Montparnasse, which were well attended. [39]Their productions received serious reviews in both the Yiddish and the French press. The reviewers included the critic and dramaturge Nissan Frank of the Parizer Haint and Jaques Biélinky of the Ménorah. In addition, several reviews appeared in Le Figaro, Paris Midi and L'Humanité. [40]

Amateur Drama Groups

Hoarse voices and shouts, mixed with crude and cynical jokes, filling the auditorium ― this is the backbone of the entire "Theater" […] The Yiddish theater in Paris has no actors, no repertoire, no voice, no language and not a single word of Yiddish […] The present day Yiddish theater in Paris knows only a wild outburst of primitive urges […] and terrible ignorance […] It does not show any responsibility or demonstrate Jewish values, not towards the Yiddish-speaking audience or towards Yiddish art, which here has been turned into sacrilege. [41]

Thus wrote Vinogura, cultural correspondent of the Yiddish Communist newspaper Arbeter Stime in July 1927. Other than a few exceptions, the repertoire of the Yiddish theater in Paris consisted of the plays of the Schund, which fit precisely Vinogura's description. Nathan Frank described in the Yiddish newspaper Parizer Bleter (1925) how, during a performance of The Sacrifice of Isaac at the Lancry Theater, he saw Abraham, with his long patriarchal beard, wander off through the audience to the lobby to give instructions to the box office … [42]

The struggle to improve public taste and to present a repertoire of quality plays was fought primarily by amateur actors, cultural critics and artists and culture circles run by political parties, the dominant among them being the Kultur lige.

The Kultur Lige (The Culture League)

The Kultur Lige was the dominant body in Yiddish cultural life in interwar Paris. It was founded in 1922 by a number of political groups (the Bund, the communists, the left-wing "Poalei Zion"). Its members held weekly lectures and discussions on literary and historical topics. By the fall of 1925 there was a communist majority in most of the administrative committees of the Kultur Lige and it became a body affiliated to the Communist Party. The proposal of the Bund supporters that the Kultur Lige should remain non-partisan was rejected, which led to their leaving the Kultur Lige setting up the Medem Club, named after Vladimir Medem. The communists managed to maintain their control of the Kultur Lige throughout the whole period, exploiting its activities to indoctrinate members of the Kultur Lige with social awareness and encouraged them to become members of the Communist Party and the closely affiliated workers union, the Confédération Générale du Travaile (C.G.T.U). Although the Kultur Lige did not succeed in attracting large numbers of the Yiddish public to join it, most of whom preferred to join Landsmanschften, the Kultur Lige did nevertheless support choirs and drama groups and various theater troupes. [43]

Active in the drama group of the Kultur Lige were Lazar Daran, Berish Unterman (who had already performed with the Bund drama group in 1903), Moshe Stavziv, Haim Shneor and others. Together with actors from the Vilner Troupe, on 18 April 1930 they staged The Blacksmith's Daughter by Hirshbein, as well as Hear, O Israel by Osip Dimov, The Circle by Arthur Schnitzler, It is Burning by Peretz and others. The group broke up after negotiations about joining the amateur theater Maske (Mask) broke down.

In 1928 the Kultur Lige established another drama group, with a communist oriented repertoire. In 1930 a professional actor by the name of Ekman took on himself the running of the drama group. He was fired after complaints were received that he was not leading the group in the right political direction and Ginemen was appointed in his stead. His appointment did not put an end to the political squabbling, however, and by the end of 1931 the group was run by a Council of Directors. Subsequently M. Barvin was appointed director of the group. The repertoire included plays that had been adapted by Peretz, such as Shadows, and The Night Watchman, Hirsh Lekert by Kushnir, extracts from poems by Mayakovski, scenes from Gorki's The Mother, a parody on the life of the Jewish community in Paris, etc. [44] The most significant contribution of the Kultur Lige to the Yiddish theater in Paris was the founding of the PYAT - Paris Yiddish Workers' Theater.

P.Y.A.T - Paris Yiddish Workers' Theater

The Paris Yiddish Workers' Theater was opened in 1934.[45] When the Front Populaire were in power (1936-38) it changed its name to the Paris Yiddish Avant-garde Theater. The Theater had been established on the base of the drama group of the Kultur Lige, with the aim of presenting good plays to the Yiddish-speaking public, an aim in tune with the basic beliefs of the communist party (the ruling faction of the Kultur Lige).

The Theater included a number of actors from the Vilna Troupe who had remained in Paris, such as Yaakov Korlander, Yaakov Mansdorf, and David Licht, as well as local actors such as Abramovitch, Herman Enden  [46] and Moshe Kineman.[47] The plays staged at the Theater represented the best of the Yiddish repertoire ― the classics of Sholem Aleichem, Peretz and Mendele, together with plays, or adaptations, by Leivik, Bergelson, Markish, Askenfeld and others.[48] Some of the sets were designed by the artist Bervin Frenkel.

The first producers of the plays were three actors from the Vilna Troupe ― Kornfeld, Mansdorf and Licht. Although their artistic abilities were unquestionable, doubt was thrown on their political loyalties. The minutes of the Culture League report "there is tension between the artistic team and the collective … Our comrades from Vilna did not want to attend the evening in honor of Bergelson. They came only when they were forced to do so." "The theater people do not share out ideals. They did not want to be part of us. Their attitude towards us is purely professional." [49]

PYAT, a strictly Communist party-oriented body, frequently had difficulty appealing to non-Communist audiences. Szajkowski reports that in May 1934 they had to cancel a play due to poor attendance; on the other hand, throughout 1938 they performed twice a week for eight months. It was towards the end of the period when the Front Populaire was in power, a time when the Theater enjoyed a certain stability and tried to attract non-Communist audiences (as can be seen in the Theatre's change of name). However, the defeat of the Front Populaire put a stop to such efforts. [50] Despite the difficulties the theater managed to build up its own audience and even founded the "Society of the Friends of PYAT" with 250 members. The Theater was constantly in the red and could not perform regularly. The cast always had to find additional work to make a living, as stated in Bober's book What's New in the War?

Why does Leon earn his living by ironing? Because the PYAT pays him no more than he is paid when he puts on a play in the workplace. A Jewish actor, can he really call this a profession when the off-season for the Yiddish Theater lasts even longer than in confection?" [51]

In spite of such obstacles the theater continued to function after the outbreak of war, closing its doors only in February 1940 when several actors were called up or enlisted voluntarily in the French army. From 1941 some were interned in the Occupied Zone camps, where they continued their theatrical activities. Soon after the war the Theater re-opened and in 1946 Moshe Kineman staged The Reform, a play he had written in the Beaune-la-Rolande French internment camp, with a cast of actors who had survived the war. "The play was a great success. The Mutualité Auditorium was packed out. The audience wept with emotion at the familiar dialogues." [52]

Several other theater groups functioned in the 1920s and 1930s alongside the PYAT. Although not all of them shared its political affinities they felt the same obligation as the Kultur Lige to produce quality plays.

The Dramatic Studio

As mentioned before, The Dramatic Studio was founded following the visit of the Vilna Troupe to Paris. It functioned for a year and a half (1922-23) and during that time put on David's Pinski's Gabri and the Women, Anski's Between Day and Night and other plays. [53]

The Yiddish Dramatic and Lyric Association― The Harp

In June 1923 TheYiddish Dramatic and Lyric Association ― the Harp was founded, which included a theater group and a choir. The Association, which met on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, at a café on 28, rue de Belleville, appealed primarily to "the proletariat and the masses," as was written in their manifesto. Among their activists many had been amateur actors before 1914, including the chairman Boris Stabzig. They staged a number of plays, such as The Matchmaker's Daughter by Avrom Reisen, Hercules by A, Bel and The Eternal Song by Mark Orenstein, produced by Tchekotch from Chanstohova and Mordechai Eizenstadt from Byalistock, a student of Nachum Tsemach, one of the founders of "Habimah." The theater group closed down in 1926. [54]

The Masque

The Masque was one of the most active theater groups. During 1920-21 they performed Hirshbein's The Empty Inn, directed by Grossbard, Ornstein's Brothers and Sisters and two plays by Peretz, It Is Burning and Sister. The group stopped functioning after a short time but was revived in 1925 by Leiser Daran. The principal actors of Masquerade were Leiser Daran and his wife Lilit, [55]  Tsilia Daran, Meir Biblin, Moshe Kleinman, [56 ] Moshe Stabzig and Moshe Kineman. They opened with Chekhov's play followed by a musical parody on the plays of the Schund The Jew or the Dandy by the humorist Der Tunkeler (pen name of Yosef Tunkel). They also put on plays by French authors such as Octave Mirbeau. The Masque lasted for approximately two years, closing down when Daran was taken ill. He died on 5 July 1929. [57]

There were several other amateur theater groups which functioned only for a short time. They were connected to various organizations, such as a trade union or a particular country of origin, such as the group founded by the Galicians landschaft. Sometimes they belonged to a welfare organization, such as the Yiddishe Folkshilf (Jewish People's Help), alongside which the "Goldfaden Dramatic Group" functioned. [58]

Szajkowski stated that the Yiddish audience was clearly divided in two; the general public, who adored the Schund and were not too interested in the repertoire of the theater groups and a smaller, more select group of devotees of quality theater. They attended the plays performed by the various drama groups. These were two different worlds, based on different concepts, with no real connection. The more cultured groups were small, lacking in financial resources and unable to support artistic Yiddish theater for any period of time, while the general public showed no desire for serious theater. The artistic motivation of the actors in the theater groups pushed them to stage good plays. Although most of their performances were unsophisticated, amateur productions they were preferable to the melodramas of the Schund, which consisted largely of strident declamations and cheap, tasteless jokes. [59]


With the German occupation of France (June 1940) Jews and other "undesirables" began to be eliminated from the public scene, often due to collaboration between French bodies and the Nazi conquerors. There were signs of this in the artistic milieu of Paris, both symbolic and actual. In the fall of 1940 the name of the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt, named after the French Jewish actress, was changed to the Théâtre de la Cité. [60] A statue of a French Jewish actress, Élisabeth Rachel Felix, 1821-1858, by the sculptor Dantan, was removed from an exhibition titled Parisien Life at the End of the Nineteenth Century, (La vie parisienne à la fin du XIXe siècle) mounted by the Musée Carnavalet, as was a portrait of Sarah Rosine Bernhardt (1844-1923).[61]

These actresses, part of the French pantheon, represent many Jewish actors who were an integral part of local theatrical circles and played a significant role in French cultural and social life. Apparently, however, this sense of belonging was only on the surface, as they were only too easily erased from the public consciousness with the Nazi occupation. They were relegated to the same category as the "undesirables," together with dozens of immigrant Yiddish actors who had been active in Yiddish culture during the two World Wars.


[1] Robet Bober. Quoi de neuf sur la Guerre? Gallimard, Paris, 2002, p. 130.

[2] Itzik Manger. "Forword", Yiddish Theatre in Europe between Two World Wars: Poland. Itzik Manger et. al.(ed.). Yiddish Culture Congress, New York, 1968, p. 7 (in Yiddish)

[3] The following is based mainly on :
Zosa Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France" in Yiddish Theatre in Europe between Two World Wars: Soviet Union, Western Europe, Baltic Countries. Yiddish Culture Congress, New York, 1971, pp. 289-321 (in Yiddish);
Ch. Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris" in Hundred Years Yiddish Theatre. Society of Yiddish Culture, London, 1962, pp. 18-25 (in Yiddish) ; relevant entries form the Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre (Leksikon fun Yidishen Teater) compiled and edited by Zalmen Zylbercweig. Vols. 1-6, Warsaw, Mexico City, New York, 1931-1969. Farlag Elisheva, New York (in Yiddish).

[4] On the visit of this troupe in Paris, it's repertoire, the actors and press reviews see: Zosa Szajkowski, Goldfaden in Paris" Yivo Bleter XV: 4 (May-June 1940), pp. 291-295.

[5] Archive Israélites de France, 31 January 1889, quoted in Szajkowski, op. cit.

[6] Le Temp, 9 February 1889, quoted in Szajkowski, op. cit.

[7] On the struggle against Yiddish in France, from early 18th century, which mainly took place in Alsace-Lorraine and Paris, see Zosa Szajkowski "The Struggle against Yiddish in France (XVIII-XIX centuries)", Yivo Bleter XV: 4 (May-June 1940), pp. 4-77 (in Yiddish).

[8] On the Goldfaden's visit to Paris see: Szajkowski, Goldfaden in Paris", pp. 295-306.

[9] Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris", p. 18.

[10] "News from Yivo", Yivo Bleter XIV: 4 (March-April 1939), p. 25 (in Yiddish).

[11] Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", p. 289.

[12] On Leon Kobrin see David S. Lifson. The Yiddish Theatre in America. Thomas Yoselof, New York, London, 1965, pp. 83-86.

[13] Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", pp. 289-290.

[14] On Leon Schechter (b. 1900, Czernowitz), who lived in Paris ca. 1920-25, see Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 6th vol. pp. 6117-18.

[15] Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", p. 291. 

[16] Harvard University (Cambridge) Theatre archives, in Ibid.

[17] On Rirachovski see: Zosa Szajkowski. "Bibliography of the Jewish Press in France and the French Colonies (with introduction on :150 Years of the Jewish Press in France)" The Jews in France: Studies and Materials. E. Tcherikower (ed.), Yivo, New York, 1942, vol. 1, p. 247 (in Yiddish).

[18] Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris", pp. 18-19. 

[19] "Peretz Theater". Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 3rd vol. p. 1897; Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", p. 292.

[20] On Pennie Vaxman (b. Lodz, 1787) see Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 1st vol. pp. 661-62.

[21] Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", p. 292.

[22] On Henry-Henrik Lachtinger (b. 1888, Poland), who arrived to Paris around 1920 see Lexicon of theYiddish Theatre, 2nd vol. pp. 991-992.

[23] On Regina Tsuker (Shvartzstein) and Karl (Akiva)Tsimbalist see: Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 5th vol. Kedoyshim, pp. 3853, 3858 respectively.

[24] Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", pp. 293-94.

[25] On the various members of the family see: Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 4th vol. p. 2685; 5th vol. Kedoyshim, pp. 4244-45; 6th vol. pp. 5327-29; 5415-32;

[26] On Julius Adler (b. 1880, Bialystok) and on Rudolph Zaslavski (b. 1886, Ouman), see Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 1st vol. pp. 11-13; 751-52 respectively.

[27] Pintschev – the Polish Jews used this word for an imaginary place, and appeared in various expressions "s'togt shoin in Pintschev" – The sun is rising in Pintschev – i.e. – It is about time to do something (I am grateful to my father, the late Baruch Rosenberg who brought it to my knowledge. )

[28] Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris", p. 21; Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", p. 294.

[29] Le Petit Larousse, Larousse, Paris, 1996, p. 1265.

[30]  Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", p. 295.

[31] Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris", p. 18; Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", p. 304.

[32] On Maurice Schwartz see Lexicon of Yiddish Theatre, 3rd vol. pp. 2327-68; Lifson, The Yiddish Theatre in America, 313-97; 576-81;

[33] Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris", p. 19; Szajkowski notes some reviews which appeared in the French journals Jour and Le Figaro, Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", pp. 304, 305.

[34] Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris", p. 19.

[35] On Joseph Kestler (1881-1933) Hungarian born, see Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 1st vol. pp. 2925-30.

[36] Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris", p. 19.

[37] Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", pp. 296-97.

[38] On Alexander Granovski (b. 1890, Moscow) and the theatre see: Joseph Shein. "Yiddish Theatre in the Soviet Union: Alexander Granovski's Studio in Saint Petersburg" in Yiddish Theatre in Europe between Two World Wars: Soviet Union, Western Europe, Baltic Countries, pp. 41-9; Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 1st vol. pp. 516-17.

[39] Shein. "Yiddish Theatre in the Soviet Union: Alexander Granovski's Studio in Saint Petersburg", p. 99; Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris", p. 19.

[40] For a detailed list of the publications see: Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 2nd vol. pp. 1235-38.

[41] Barukh Vinogura "About the Yiddish Theatre in France" Arbeter Stime, 28 July 1927, quoted in Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", pp. 301-2.

[42] Nathan Frank "Saturday Evening in Lancry", Parizer Bleter, 23 January 1925, quoted in Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", pp. 302.

[43] Paula Hayman. From Dryfus to Vichy: The Remaking of French Jewry 1906-1939. Columbia University Press, New York, 1979, pp. 84-5. Michel Roblin. Les Juifs de Paris: Démographie, économie, culture. A et J Picard, Paris, 1952, p. 171.

[44] Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", pp. 309; 311-12;

[45] On PYAT see Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", pp. 311-15; Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris", p. 20; Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 3rd vol. pp. 1757-58; David H Weinberg. Les juifs à Paris de 1933 à 1939. Calman-lévy, 1974, pp. 52-53.

[46] On Enden who perished during the Holocaust see Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre5th vol. Kedoyshim, p. 4256.

[47] For a detailed list see "PYAT" in Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 3rd vol. pp. 1758.

[48] For a detailed list see Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 3rd vol. pp. 1758; Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", pp. 314-15.

[49] Kultur Lige minutes of the 19 March 1934 and 10 May 1934 in Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", p. 313

[50] Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", p. 313.

[51] Robet Bober. Quoi de neuf sur la Guerre?, p.132

[52] David Diamant. Le Billet Vert: La vie et la résistance à Pithiviers et à Beaune-la-Rolande. Renouveau, Paris, 1977, p. 151.

[53] Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", p. 309; Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris", p. 20;

[54] Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", p. 309; Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris", p. 20;

[55] On Lilit, who perished during the Holocaust see: Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 5th vol. Kedoyshim, p. 2479.

[56] For a detailed list of the actors see Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France",
Note no. 39, p. 320; on Lilith, who perished during the Holocaust see Lexicon of theYiddish Theatre: Kedoyshim, 5th vol p. 4279.

[57] Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", pp. 308-9; Kornhchandler "Yiddish Theatre in Paris", p. 20.

[58] Szajkowski "Yiddish Theatre in France", p. 315

[59] Ibid., pp. 307-8.

[60] Philippe Erlanger. La France sans étoile: souvenirs de l'avant-guerre et du temps de l'Occupation. Plon, Paris, 1974, p. 122.

[61] Yvon Bizardel. Sous l'Occupation: souvenirs d'un conservateur du musée. Calman-Lévy, Paris, 1964, p. 58.




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