Isaac and Odel
(Adele) Swerdlow (Sverdlov) had two sons – Menasha (Moynia in
Russian and Max in English). The other son was named Zurach, (Zunya
in Russian and Sydney in English).
Isaac became an
actor on the Russian stage at the age of fourteen, playing
Russian juveniles. Five years later, he joined the Yiddish
theatre and recruited his wife, Adele, to also go on the Yiddish
stage. By the time Isaac’s two sons were born, they were
professional Jewish actors.
Adele’s first child prior to Max was a little girl. In those
days, theatre groups travelling from city to city, could neither
afford, nor was it available, for train transportation. They
travelled by horse-drawn wagons.
One winter or
fall night, everyone packed up after the performance. They
loaded the wagon and they were going from one city to another.
It was very cold and Isaac and his wife were very tired after
the performance. They bundled the little girl into some warm
clothes and cradled her in a pillow. Adele fell asleep. Somehow
in her sleep, the baby girl smothered and died. It hit Isaac
quite hard, so he never talked about it.
Isaac and his
family lived in Russia until 1923, when the family immigrated to
America. The family first went to Germany as a first transient
point. When trying to enter the United States, Isaac’s wife was
not permitted to enter because of a quota system. The decision
was made that Isaac would go to the United States, leaving Adele
and his two sons behind in Germany. He would then apply to bring
his wife and sons to the United States as soon as he could.
As part of the
Museum's Lecture Series, you may read the text of (and hear part
Sydney Swerdlow's lecture on
the history of the Yiddish theatre, which was given in Toronto,
Canada in 1979.