Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Menasha Skulnik


Born on 15 May 1892 in Chmielnik, Kielce Gubernia, Poland. Father -- a carpenter. Always seriously [in need] because of a lack of income for seven children, he moved in 1900 to Warsaw, where his mother actually was the provider by opening a food store. She had a huge sense of humor and used to sing folk songs.   

In his memoirs S. recalls:

"I've never not had any great ambition, and I've never not had any complaints to the world... more "


S. notes that after learning in a cheder at the age of seven years:

"I began to read Yiddish newspapers, which I had previously never seen in our house. I began to read story books by Shomer, Tanenbaum, Hermolin. At our house there was never any reading at all. My father was poor and never was able to spend the few kopeks to buy a newspaper. But when I found out that I wanted to read about the world...." more....

S.'s older brother arrived home from the military and told [us] about "theatre", singing over to us the songs from "Shulamis" and "Bar Kochba" and, in an ibergezaltsener form went over the content of the theatre pieces. He also took S. to a Yiddish theatre, where he heard music for the first time. Then he took him to a Polish theatre, to "Malka Schwartzenkop". S. began to tsinizelis go back to visit, where it pleased him to best the clowns, become their errand boy, and he left with them to Brest-Litovsk. His father arrived home and quickly took him away from there.

S. went back into the cheder and learned Gemora from his father. She sang as an "alto" with a cantor. In Warsaw there then existed three Yiddish theatres, and S. let them not by hiding at first behind the scenery in order to baytsuvinen the performances, then there he became an errand boy. He took with other children to imitating "theatre", acting for kreplakh Later he "made theatre" in private homes with "amateurs" (the future actors Yablonski, Shidlover, Silberkasten, Gerstenzang, Weisshof), performing "Ḳabtsnzohn eṭ Hungerman". When all of the amateurs moved about as a troupe under the management of Misha German, S. put together a troupe of children, with them studying two plays and traveling around with them for a year across the province. After acting in Mezritch with "amateurs', he joined Mishurat's guest-starring troupe, then performed in the troupes of Krause, Sabsey and Genfer.

S. recalls in his memoirs:

"...I shlepped around with an itinerant troupe of actors in Russia. We were..." more....


The Skulnik Family
(Menasha behind his father)

In another episode from those wandering years S. recalls:

"We were at times...." more....

After an episode that portrayed the material conditions of the former itinerant trope, S. relates in his memoirs:

"The town was called Lukov. We arrived in the town as a troupe of eighteen people performing theatre, and we performed in an inn or a simple house." ...more...

The poet Z. Weinper portrays the period as such:

"Menasha Skulnik..." ...more....

In order to avoid military service, S. was smuggled across the border to Krakow (Galicia, then a part of Austria-Hungary), where he met a performing troupe, which didn't want to take him in, and he went to Vienna and there he put together a troupe with three actors, a quartet, which toured across Austria, Czechoslovakia and performed in beer halls and bars, where they went around with a plate for their "honorarium".  From there S. traveled in 1913 to America.

In April 1913 S. arrived in New York, where he visited his older brother, who was entirely cold to taking him in. S. the next morning went away to an actors club, but not knowing anyone, and due to his poor dress, decided not present himself. However, meeting his friend Harry Weissberg with whom he had acted in Yiddish theater in Europe, he entered through him into a Yiddish vaudeville house on Willett Street, where S. became engaged through the director Bernard Elving for twelve dollars a week as an actor and stage director. Here he debuted as "Ayzkl" in Moshe Richter's "Hertsele miukhs" and acted on the Sabbaths and Sundays in the sketches, which consisted of "arbl prose". In the summertime he traveled to his sister in Albany, where he became a "busboy" [assistant waiter] in a hotel, acted with "amateurs" in "Brothers Lurie", and acquired therefore a great sum, traveling back to New York, and became engaged by Mike Thomashefsky for his "Arch Street" Theatre in Philadelphia, where the stage director Max Rosenthal soon rewrote plays and roles for him. Performing in small roles as a gebekhdikher "teacher" in "Dos meydl fun der vest (The Girls of the West)", S. came out for a certain time in a certain scene when the farmer, a high, ongepakeveter...more...

But here S. was noticed by the Yiddish Actors Union, that he should provide, after a period of six years, exams that consisted for him the performance in the three roles: of "R' Akiva" in a scene from "Uriel Acosta"; "Motye Shtreichl" in "Chasia the Orphan"; and "R' Elie" in "God of Vengeance".

S. displayed only two or the three roles, and he portrayed such the attempt in the Actors Union:

"...When in...." more....

Joseph Rumshinsky portrayed as such this audition:

"Et had in that..." more....


Sh. E. and Sh. E. from Yakov Tikman and Harry Weissberg.

  • "Lexicon






Home       |       Site Map       |      Exhibitions      |      About the Museum       |       Education      |      Contact Us       |       Links

Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 6, page 4950.

Copyright   Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved.