Letter from Ida Kaminska to Rachel Holzer and Jacob Weislitz, 1960. From Ida Kaminska in Warsaw to actress Rachel Holzer and Jacob Weislitz in Australia, 9 October 1960. Kaminska has enjoyed her recent trip to Istanbul and Israel and now is back in Warsaw, busy with performances, auditions, reading, meetings, and administrative work. She is sending two plays, which they are free to use or not, as they will. Seeking no remuneration, she hopes, however that they might send something to "Marysia" for copying the notes. In a few days the State Yiddish Theater will be leaving on a tour of the provinces. She asks Holzer and Weislitz to give her warm regards to old comrades from the theater. Kaminska's husband, Meir Melman, adds his greetings in a postscript. Yiddish. RG 535 Rachel Holzer Papers, F Kaminska. (YIVO)

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Polish State Yiddish Theater

State-funded theater established in November 1949 as a result of the merger and nationalization of two Yiddish theater companies based in Wrocław and Łódź. Headed by celebrated actress and stage director Ida Kamińska (Kaminski; 1899–1980), the theater toured between both cities. In 1955 it moved to Warsaw, where it has performed since 1970 in its own building on Plac Grzybowski. It is currently called Teatr Żydowski im. E. R. Kaminskiej (Ester-Rokhl Kaminski Yiddish Theater).

Ida Kamińska directed the theater until 1968, employing primarily prewar Yiddish actors, including Chewel Buzgan (1897–1971), Izaak Grudberg (Yitskhok Ber Turkow; 1906–1970), Ruth Taru-Kowalska (1909–1979), Avrom Morevski (Morewski; 1886–1964), Seweryn Dalecki (1913–2006), Michał (Moyshe) Szwejlich (1910–1995), and Juliusz Berger (1928–1999). While Buzgan, Jakub Rotbaum, and others sometimes directed plays, Kamińska directed the majority of the productions herself. To help attract a Polish audience, she introduced the use of simultaneous Polish translations. In addition to a repertoire of classical Yiddish plays, she produced Polish plays in Yiddish translation, such as Leon Kruczkowski’s Yulius un Etl (Julius and Ethel; 1954), as well as Yiddish versions of well-known European plays, among them Alejandro Casona’s Los árboles mueren de pie (Trees Die Standing; 1958) and Bertolt Brecht’s Muter Kuraj un ire Kinder (Mother Courage and Her Children; 1957, 1967). The most popular productions included Max Bauman’s Glikl fun Hameln (Glikl of Hameln, directed by Kamińska; 1952), Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye der milkhiker (Tevye the Dairyman, directed by Buzgan; 1956), S. An-ski’s Der dibek (The Dybbuk, directed by Morewski; 1957), and A Goldfadn kholem (A Goldfadn Dream, adapted and directed by Rotbaum; 1961). In 1968, amid an antisemitic campaign orchestrated by the government, Kamińska along with a large group of actors left Poland. In 1968–1969, Berger served as temporary director.

Since 1969, the head of the theater and its artistic director has been Szymon Szurmiej (1923– ). With most of the theater’s company as well as its audience gone, and the Yiddish language neither taught nor heard in Poland, Szurmiej established a drama studio where actors were taught Yiddish. He also moved away from the conventions of realistic theater and instead used techniques such as scenic montage and collage. He substantially changed and broadened the repertoire with classical Yiddish plays, including Sholem Aleichem’s Sender Blank (staged as Di yorshim [The Inheritors], directed by Rotbaum; 1977) and Gold-greber (Gold-Diggers, directed by Berger; 1981); adaptations of works by modern Jewish playwrights, such as Arthur Miller’s Der toyt fun a komivoyazher (Death of a Salesman; 1975) and Isaac Babel’s Untergang (Dusk, directed by A. Witkowski; 1976); and musical montages such as Dos lid fun mayn folk (The Song of My People; 1974), Shtern afn dakh (Stars on the Roof; 1977), Bonjour Monsieur Chagall (1979), and Tsvishn falndike vent (Amid Toppling Walls; 1983).

The Polish State Yiddish Theater performed in Western Europe, North America, Israel, and Australia. It also organized related cultural events, including a conference on Yiddish theater in 2005.

Suggested Reading

Szczepan Gąssowski, ed., Państwowy Teatr Żydowski im. Ester Rachel Kamińskiej (Warsaw, 1995); Ida Kamińska, My Life, My Theater, ed. and trans. Curt Leviant (New York, 1973).



Translated from Polish by Michael C. Steinlauf