Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Paulina Goldfaden
(Polia Verbell)

Born in  1845 in Odessa, Ukraine. He father was a maskil (a member of the Jewish enlightenment). He was a  Hebrew poet. His name was Eliyahu-Mordechai Verbell. G. received a good education and was fluent in several languages, both in writing and speaking. Approximately in 1868 she was married in Odessa to Avraham Goldfaden, and from that time on she participated in practically all of her husband’s theatrical undertakings. At times she was his consultant in his commercial undertakings and was also involved in artistic matters related to the theatre.

Yitzhok Libresko describes her in the following manner in his memoirs of Zalman Zilbercweig,  "Before the Curtain": When Mrs. Goldfaden saw me wandering around with my miserable merchandise, she gave me the name "Hotzmach" ("What’s his name?"). This name was later on given to the character, a peddler, in the play "Grandma Yachne" ("The Conjurer")... I must make note herein that although Goldfaden was, at that time, in great financial difficulty, jewelry was never lacking. With the passing of the "good old days," which happened often in the theatre, Goldfaden’s wife purchased a great deal of precious jewelry and fine clothes... Goldfaden did not leave his wife very much cash (when he went to Odessa) because, since his wife  lived a very extravagant lifestyle, and at times she even paid off the debts of other people.  People did not hold back from presenting her with the finest and the best gifts without asking for money...  


Due to all of her belongings, traveling with his wife (from Rumanian to Odessa) would have cost more than the cost of transporting half of his troupe. Roskoshne (another actress) would do the same with her sister-in-law, Hinke. Both women were so bedecked with jewelry that to everyone else they seemed like the richest women in Bucharest... "Mrs. Goldfaden and I shared the work. (Goldfaden at that time was in St. Petersburg, trying to get government permission to perform throughout Russia while the troupe was performing in Romania.) I was the manager at that time, and Mrs. Goldfaden was the treasurer."

At that time Mr. Goldfaden explains (in his letter of 8, October, 1899 to Sholem Aleichem): "My entire battle in life is due to the family life with my wife. It is understandable that when I’m in my creative heaven day and night, and when the spirit moves me to write, I can’t and I don’t care even if there is an entire world full of money therein. Because she, my partner, is only made of flesh and blood, who can afford to give in to the temptations of a material existence. She should, when my pen is ready to make so much money, be more careful with the household expenses, even manage the money more carefully. However, she does not do this—and apart from this she does whatever appears to be tempting to her eyes. She suffers terribly from a shortcoming—she has placed me before the world in a helpless situation—so that when the world asks me—where is your money?—I look at my wife—and I cannot, nor may I, answer the world... First of all she has perceived, however too late,  her big mistake—Yes!  She says to me with a sigh—"You should have had someone, a Freydele, who could have made you more happy" (Freydele is a female character in a Sholem Aleichem novel—"Stempenyu")—but unfortunately, I could never be "Freydele."

From a placard for a performance in Bucharest’s Yiddish theatre in 1877 one can see that the two-actor comedy,  "The Man with Horns," which was presented at that time by Goldfaden's troupe, was not the work of Goldfaden but of Paulina’s translation from the French.

From this one can deduce that Paulina had a hand in the other French farces and vaudeville that Avraham Goldfaden had reworked or rearranged for a Yiddish audience.

Her letters often presented questions that illustrated the situation in the Yiddish theatre. Four of her letters were explained in the following:

1) 9 April, 1897 to Jacob Dineson ("The Jewish World", Warsaw 1929, pages 4 and 26)

2) 14 February 1908 to Yitzhak Perkoff (Perkoff’s brochure "Avraham Goldfaden, London, 1909, page 28]

3) March 27, 1908 to Yitzak Perkoff (There, page 5, 30 December, 1908), A. Tortschiner [Archives, Vilna, 1930, page 272]

4) 30 December 1908 to A. Torschiner, "Archives", Vilna, 1930 page 272.

In the last letter G. writes that she has a complete manuscript of her husband’s last play, "Ben-Ami", which could become a great propaganda piece for Zionism. It would be worthwhile if the Zionists should themselves present this play.

After her husband’s death G. received $5.00 a week, underwritten by Boris Thomashefsky.

On 9 December 1910 G. died alone in New York and was buried in the Washington Cemetery. 

The Yiddish press mentioned her death with a short notation.

M. E. from her brother-in-law Shimi Goldfaden.

  • "Goldfaden-book," New York, 1926, 26 pp.

  • Zalmen Zylbercweig -- "Hintern forhang," Vilna, 1928, pp. 24, 46, 50, 53, 68, 69, 81.

  • Nachman Mayzel -- A. goldfaden's triv tsu y. dinezon, "Di yidishe velt," Warsaw, 1928, 4, pp. 115, 118.

  • Sh.'s Rotman -- Der repertuar fun yidishn teater in bukarest in 1877, "Archive," Vilna, 1930, pp. 280-1.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 1, page 372.

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