Szymon Dzigan (center), Yisroel Shumacher (right), and an unidentified actor in On a heym (Without a Home), directed by Alexander Martin, based on the play by Jacob Gordin. (Poland, 1938). (YIVO)

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Dzigan and Shumacher

Comedy team that performed in Yiddish theaters, cabarets, and films. Shimen (Szymon) Dzigan (1905–1980) and Yisroel Shumacher (or Szumacher; 1908–1961) were both born in Łódź. Dzigan was apprenticed as a teenager to a tailor, but when the well-known writer and poet Moyshe Broderzon noticed his improvised parodies of speakers at a banquet in 1927, he invited Dzigan to join the Ararat literary cabaret that he was founding in Łódź. The following year, Shumacher graduated from a Hebrew gymnasium and also joined the Ararat company. They began to perform together, first with Ararat and then in Warsaw with the troupe Yidishe Bande. In response to their growing popularity, in 1935 they founded their own cabaret company at the Nowości Theater in Warsaw. They also starred in the Yiddish films Al khet (I Have Sinned; 1936), Freylekhe kabtsonim (Jolly Paupers; 1937), and On a heym (Without a Home; 1938).

The performances of Dzigan and Shumacher typically opened with skits based on items from daily newspapers. Their humor was aimed at antisemites and government functionaries, but also at themselves and their public. Routines based on domestic life would follow. Dzigan’s persona was that of a hyperactive, happy beggar, endlessly complaining about life as he darted about the stage with his signature red handkerchief hanging from his pocket. The bespectacled Shumacher, in fundamental contrast, was phlegmatic and restrained, glossing his Jewish troubles with subtle gestures of the shoulders and hands. Melech Ravitch spoke of them as incarnating the eternal spirit of Polish Jews via the decidedly unliterary medium of Łódź Yiddish. He also described them as two Don Quixotes sitting on a park bench (perhaps each hoping for a Sancho Panza in the other), one dreaming of Palestine and the other of Birobidzhan (Naye idishe tsaytung [Montreal]; 1953). Their routines were written by such writers as Broderzon, Yoysef-Shimen Goldshteyn, Moyshe Nudelman, and Itsik Manger; they also adapted older texts from Sholem Aleichem and others; material they wrote was often credited to “Shudzig,” from the first part of each of their names. In the years just prior to World War II, with Nazism next door and Polish antisemitism on the rise, Dzigan and Shumacher’s performances were “a consolation in those terribly difficult days and . . . revenge against our enemies” (Nudelman, 1968, p. 161).

Shooting the film Freylekhe kabtsonim (Jolly Paupers), starring Zygmunt Turkow, his daughter Ruth Turkow, Shimon Dzigan, and Yisroel Shumacher, Poland, 1937. (YIVO)

With the German invasion of Poland, Dzigan and Shumacher fled to Soviet-occupied Białystok. There they reestablished their company and toured Minsk, Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Kharkov, and other Soviet localities packed with Jewish audiences hungry for a Yiddish word. When they attempted to leave the Soviet Union with the Polish army of General Władysław Anders, they were arrested and spent four years in prison, first in Tashkent and then in the Oktiabinsk labor camp. Even then, however, they were permitted to perform, both for Jews from the surrounding areas and at NKVD banquets. Released in 1946, they were arrested again in Lwów, but were finally able to reach Warsaw in 1947. There they starred in one of the first postwar films about the Holocaust, Undzere kinder (Our Children; 1948), directed by Natan Gross. In 1950 they arrived in Israel, where despite obstacles placed in the way of Yiddish culture, they soon found a large audience and also toured throughout the world. Dzigan exchanged his Hasidic kapote for the kibbutznik’s shorts and hat, but little else changed; Israeli generals and ministers were easily substituted for Polish ones. In 1951–1952 they managed their own theater in Buenos Aires. They finally established their own theater in Tel Aviv in 1958, but in 1960 they parted ways. Shumacher died the following year; Dzigan continued to perform comedy for another 20 years.

Suggested Reading

Shimen Dzigan, Der koyekh fun yidishn humor (Tel Aviv, 1974); Natan Gross, “Dzigan i Schumacher (Karta z dziejów humoru żydowskiego),” Nowy kurier (Tel Aviv, 17–24 October, 2003); Moyshe Nudelman, “Kleynkunst- un maryonetn-teaters tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes,” Yidisher teater in Eyrope tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes vol. 1, Poyln, ed. Itsik Manger, Yonas Turkov (Jonas Turkow), and Moyshe Perenson, pp. 161–164 (New York, 1968).



Translated from Polish by Inessa Medzhibovskaya; revised by Michael C. Steinlauf