Members of the Jewish Repertory Theater in a scene from the third act of Dantons Tod (Danton’s Death), by Georg Büchner, directed by Michał Weichert, at the Nowości Theater, Warsaw, 1930. Photograph by Alter Kacyzne. (Forward Association/YIVO)

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Weichert, Michał

(1890–1967), theater director, historian, critic, and communal activist. Born in Podhajce in eastern Galicia and raised in Stanisławów, Michał Weichert (Mikhl Vaykhert) received his education at heder and in Polish schools. He attended law and humanities programs at universities in Lwów, Vienna (receiving his J.D. in 1916), and Berlin; in the latter city, he studied avant-garde theater with Max Reinhardt. In 1918, Weichert settled in Warsaw.

Weichert directed plays for leading Yiddish dramatic companies, including the Vilner Trupe. Among his productions were his own dramatization of Sholem Asch’s Kidush ha-Shem (Sanctification of the Name; 1928); Shaylok (Shylock; 1929); Arn Zeitlin’s contemporary historical drama Yidn-shtot (City of Jews; 1929); and Moyshe Lifshits’s comedy A mayse mit Hershele Ostropolyer (A Tale of Hershele Ostropolyer; 1930). Focusing on Jewish themes, Weichert’s productions were staged in an epic style that used lighting, music, and stage design to create a coherent theatrical vision. Frequent collaborators were the composer Henekh Kon and the stage designer Władisław Weintraub.

From Michał Weichert in Warsaw to Fishl Bimko in New York, 5 June 1937. The premiere of Bimko's play, Dembes (Oaks), has taken place in Vilna and was met with great success. He hopes that Bimko will send him all of his most recent plays to perform. Now he must turn to Bimko about another matter, on behalf of the Nay-teater (formerly known as Yung-teater). A rival theatrical ensemble, directed by Y. Shengold, is claiming to have obtained the rights to perform Dembes and will do so in a tour of the Polish provinces. Surely, Bimko knows that it would be financially disastrous for two theatrical troupes to perform the same play at the same time and that the Nay-teater has made a considerable investment in Dembes, having hired one of the best young Polish theater artists, Jan Kosinski, to design the sets, as well as the well-known Jewish composer, Henekh Kon. He asks Bimko to sign an agreement confirming that Nay-teater has the exclusive right to perform Dembes in Poland. Yiddish. RG 422, Lazar Kahan Papers, F Weichert. (YIVO)

Weichert organized acting schools in Warsaw in 1922–1924 and again in 1929–1932. The graduates of the latter school, idealistic youth committed to political activism and experimental art, became the core of Yung-teater (Young Theater), which Weichert directed from 1932 to 1939. Yung-teater dramatized favorite themes of the international Left, including the Sacco-Vanzetti and Scottsboro trials. Weichert also produced plays based on Yiddish literary works that were acclaimed in the Yiddish and Polish press for their energy and innovation. Often staged in tight spaces, the productions featured sequences of rapidly changing scenes, briefly illuminated, sometimes simultaneously, and staged on every side of the audience. Through these techniques, the audience was to be provoked to abandon neutrality and act on the plays’ lessons. The company came under continuous government pressure to alter its activist repertoire; in 1937 it was forced to move to Vilna and change its name to Nay-teater (New Theater), under which it performed until 1939.

Weichert published numerous articles on contemporary drama and theater history. He also reviewed Yiddish and Polish performances for leading Yiddish periodicals, including Literarishe bleter. A two-volume collection of his writings, Teater un drame, appeared between 1922 and 1926. He also edited the journals Ringen (Links; 1921–1922), Yidish teater (monthly; 1921–1922), Teater (1925–1926), Yidish teater (quarterly; 1927), and Teater yedies fun yidishn artistn-fareyn in Poyln (Theater News of the Yiddish Actors Union in Poland; a supplement to Literarishe bleter; 1927–1928). From 1925 to 1927, Weichert headed the Yiddish Actors Union in Poland. Amid the continuing difficulties experienced by Yiddish dramatic companies, he advocated communally funded theater modeled on the German social democratic theater organization Volksbühne.

During World War II, Weichert was in the Warsaw and Kraków ghettos. From 1940 to 1942, he headed Yidishe Sotsyale Aleynhilf (Pol., Żydowska Samopomoc Społeczna; Jewish Social Self-Help), a legal organization that organized aid for Jews in camps and ghettos. When the Nazis dissolved this group in July 1942, Weichert obtained their consent to operate it as Jüdische Unterstützungsstelle (Jewish Aid Office; JUS). This body was closed in December 1942, and Weichert was conscripted for forced labor. After petitioning German officials, he was released in March 1943 and was allowed to open a new JUS office in Kraków. His activity there led to postwar charges of collaboration with the Nazis. Although he was exonerated at a trial in Kraków in 1946, he remained a controversial figure. In 1958, he left Poland for Israel, where he published a four-volume autobiography (1960–1970).

Suggested Reading

David Engel, “Who Is a Collaborator?: The Trials of Michał Weichert,” in The Jews in Poland, vol. 2, ed. Sławomir Kapralski, pp. 339–370 (Kraków 1999); Elinor Rubel, “Teatr Młodych (Jung Teater),” Pamiętnik Teatralny 41 (1992): 277–294; Zalmen Zylbercweig, “Vaykhert, Mikhal, Dr.,” in Leksikon fun yidishn teater, vol. 1, cols. 676–678 (New York, 1931).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1258, Philip Friedman, Papers, 1930s-1959; RG 280, Jacob Mestel, Papers, 1914-1958 (finding aid); RG 532, Michael Weichert, Papers, 1908-1967; RG 609, Ephraim Auerbach, Papers, 1924-1969.



Translated from Polish by Michael C. Steinlauf