The Remarkable Zalmen Zylbercweig
and his Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre

 

A 1960 Interview with Zalmen Zylbercweig
Conducted on 30 Aug 1960 at Zylbercweig's Los Angeles home
by a Dr. Zweigm (sp). Introduction and transcription by Steven Lasky.

One of the few extant interviews of Zalmen Zylbercweig, the editor of the six-volume bible of Yiddish Theatre, "The Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre", was obtained by the Museum from a family member, converted into a digital format, and transcribed for you, so that you may learn on a more intimate level about this man and his work. During the span of time between the first and sixth volumes, Zylbercweig wrote yet other books and publications, while at the same time broadcasting a daily radio "shtunde (hour)", directly from the studio that he and his wife Celia had built in the back of their Fairfax, Los Angeles home.

The Museum, as part of its tribute to Zylbercweig, in its "On the Air!" program, is featuring some of his and Celia's radio programs, broadcast between 1949-1969. There is the Museum's fine exhibition "The Remarkable Zalmen Zylbercweig", as well as the translation project (Yiddish to English) of his entire "Lexicon" volumes.

 


The following transcript has been edited somewhat, though a special effort has been made to maintain its authenticity and flavor. As Zylbercweig rightly points out to his interviewer, English was not his native language, so the transcription here in some manageable way will try to maintain the essence of his story.

The speakers are indicated by "Z" for Zalmen Zylbercweig, and "D" for Dr. Zweigm (the spelling of his name is inferred from the sound portion of the interview itself). Be forewarned that the tape on which the interview was originally recorded (by Zylbercweig) is more than fifty years old, and thus its condition is less than ideal. When transferring these reel-to-reel tapes to a digital format, it was realized that there are small parts of the interview (normally less than five seconds) that have been lost due to the deterioration of the tapes themselves. When this has occurred during this interview the term "fade out" is inserted to alert you to this condition, though what audio has faded out does little to alter or omit any relevant information. There were also times when, during the transcription of this interview by the Museum that a word(s) was unintelligible, and in these cases it is indicated as such.

Lastly, this interview was recorded by Zylbercweig on at least two reel-to-reel tapes, and thus they are presented here to you in two parts. It cannot be said with any certainty that these two parts constitute the entirety of the interview, but nevertheless the combined recording time for these two parts totals nearly one hour and was conducted on the same day. The first part of the interview has to do with Z.'s personal and professional life in Europe before World War I; the second part deals more with the history of his six-volume "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre".

The Museum hopes you will find what is presented below interesting and enlightening. And so it begins:
 

Part I:

Z: Right.

D: ... [Today is] Tuesday, and I am sitting in the study of Zalmen Zylbercweig, and we're chatting. Actually the first thing I really wanted to know is how you got involved in this whole...

Z: ...mess....

D: ...mess of being a Yiddish theatre scholar.

Z: I'll tell you, my friend Doctor. You see first thing I have to warn the people that ...(fade out) ... or with the English, or language (fade out) ... I never studied English, and I tell it to all over the world there occupied, not towns but the languages, and except Yiddish and Hebrew, I don't think I'm perfect in any language, even I talk and I understand maybe six, seven or even eight languages, including English. Naturally, I don't think it's so nice, being [an] American citizen and living in this very nice country, I would say the best in the world, uh, but it's too late. I'm becoming this September the 27th, sixty-six years [old]. I'm so tied up with work, you can see it, what's going on here in my library, or in the studio as they call it, that I have no time. I have wishes to ... to learn English, but I have no time for it, except what I read a newspaper, and listening to radio, and television sometimes, forced to talk English like today. So, excuse me, I don't know to whom I'm talking, I mean who will be listening to it, maybe fifty or a hundred years, later maybe they will talk [at] that time Yiddish like (fade out) ... parts, because it is a long story...

D: Yes.

Z: As I mentioned before, I am in my sixty-sixth year. I was born in a little town in Poland, and the name of the town is Ozorkow, a little town in that time, as my father told me after I found..... That's a very interesting thing. Would you believe that in this little town there was a man with the name "Zilverman" -- not "Zylbercweig" -- and in his time, he published -- I would say a brochure, a beginning .... of a dictionary, Jewish and Arabic. Naturally it was a meshuga, I mean they...they...would be afraid to sit down with him. But anyway, in that little town at that time, the people were mashkilim. Mashkilim I would say were people, intelligent people, people that studied, not only the Holy Script(ure) and the Talmud, but even outside books, that they called it outside books, books that didn't come by Jews, were written by Gentiles, or classics of Greeks, or... So, my father was among them. He was a very, a very, I would say, Orthodox Jew, but in the same time his eyes were open for the world.

I was two-and-a-half years when my parents, my parents moved to a large town, the second town (fade out) ...you know, the first town was Warsaw, and the next town [was] called the "Polish Manchester" is Lodz. And they went there. And being a Polish Jew, my parents moved to a large town, maybe a time ago they wouldn't understand it. But the Polish Jews had their merits. At the same time I would say, they wouldn't know...they wouldn't ... you couldn't call them very intelligent, even in Hebrew. They learned Talmud, but their (unintelligible) the Bible. This I think I'm not going into.

So my father, being a Polish Jew, decided that I should go to a cheder -- it means a public, a Hebrew public school. And at that time I'm Orthodox, [being taught] by a Jew that came from Lithuania, because the Lithuanians are known as people that know better Hebrew, and they admired to teach and learn the ... the Old Testament. So he gave me.... these were already, I think Polish Jews didn't like to recognize that the Lithuanian Jews are better. I mean, are greater... they know more, better Jewish history or other things, so he gave me into the school, and then the other schools.

I remember very well my mother, always a very Orthodox woman, that started every Saturday. She...she learned, in Yiddish, learned all the Old Testament. And she wondered every year, how could it happen that Joseph, that Joseph was a clever man, and he didn't know that his brother was going to sell him, and she cried every time like it just happened yesterday. But in the same time that she was a very Orthodox woman, she sung the songs of Goldfaden. And these, she looked at that part of Judaism like a Bible, the same thing, the same thing.  She... she had no definition between, as we call it, eh, secular and religious. She looked at these ...

So, from the beginning (7:00) and I had a nice voice, so I sung as a youngster. I started to sing these songs of the Yiddish theatre, and later on the Hebrew songs like "Hatikvah", or other things. This was the beginning I would say, the beginning, the "A", of my connection with theatre. Then the whole stories in the Bible, I looked at them, maybe now, I can see it that I have seen it, them in the theatre, and everything what's happened, what's going on, and all these stories -- and there are lots of stories -- you know, in the first Genese.... -- what's the name of it?

D: Genesis. (7:40)

Z: Yeah, Genesis. And there are lots of stories and know you can see that the movies are making all ... they came now... that they are coming to that conclusion, and I as a youngster have seen it already. But I remember, I was ... my father opened the first bookstore of Jewish and Hebrew books in Lodz. In the same time another man, opened a store, and by the way, his name was was Valach(sp), and his brother was Litvinov, and I remember him very well, that Litvinov, His brother came, Maximli Litvinov, his name was as I mentioned before. So his brother opened a store too. But my father was the first one. And then my father's -- as a youngste r-- [his] roots were from a little town, later from Lodz, uh, as we say it, [made] contributions to the Hebrew newspaper.

[8:53] So I remember at twelve years...when  I was twelve years old, or eleven I would say, a friend of my father took me to (fade out). This is a very, a very,  I would say a rough adaptation of Shakespeare's "Hamlet". I was amazed to see it. (9:33) One thing I couldn't understand. I can understand, even as a youngster, how a man can change his face. This I couldn't...but I couldn't understand -- I just have seen a garden, and now its a home. How can it be? Where is the garden? That's kishuf. You know what it means? (9:53)

D: Magic.

Z: Magic.

D: Yes.

Z: So this was the first performance, and after that it took me like a fire immediately.(10:00) When I started to go to the theatre, and remember that Lodz was a town that included four towns, four cultures. It was Poland, it was Russia, occupied by Russia, so Russian troupes came, always, all the best troupes from, groups, I mean, Tater(?) groups from Russia came, Polish -- the Polish theatre was always a wonderful theatre always -- you had Polish theatres, Polish actors, included the charm of the French people, the magination(?) of the Russians, and the veltukh(?) of the Germans.

(10:55) So is Polish theatre. I admired it very much. I've seen it later, later. I mean when I came back already from America, the same thing, the same impression I have. And German theatre, we had a daily German theatre, and the best actors. Zononkow(sp) played in our...in our town. And I've seen other people. I've seen Doyle, Conan Doyle that wrote, that wrote "Keen", he rebuilt it, (11:21) [a] Sherlock Holmes scene. He wrote a play.... I've seen a lot of wonderful German Jews sometimes, but German actors, and yidishe. So they had four types of theatre, and I... I have seen all of them. Once I fall in love with a play that I have seen in Russian by the brother Adeline(sp), a well-known actor at the time,  "Keen". "Keen", you know, it is a play of the life of actors, and immediately I became one of them. I felt that this play, this play is the "cradle" of an actor. I translated it immediately, and in 1913, I published it. (12:30)

So these plays that I have seen in all these four kinds of theatres, brought me nearer and nearer to the theatre. And being that my father was after the store, the bookstore, he published the first Jewish daily in, not in Warsaw, but as they call it "in the country", the first country Jewish news[paper]... He was one of the publishers...

D: By "country", you mean "provincial"?

Z: (13:00) Provincial, yeah. The second town, it's not a little town, it was.... So, uh, I start there in 1910. I translated there one humoresque, and it was published. I was at that time sixteen, sixteen years. So now I became fifteen years [old] when I began to print in Yiddish. Translations I started, translations and other things, but it's exactly fifteen years that I started with my pen. At that time I had no typewriters.

So, being surrounded, as you hear, from one side by the songs by my mother, on the other side the culture that my father gave me, all the Hebrew literature I would say, the whole Hebrew literature as a youngster I would say, I "ate more books than food". I would say -- I'm not exaggerating -- that I read a book a day, I would say over three hundred books a year. So in a few years, naturally its a "mix-up". I don't remember, as other ... and this would be very good for me, being today a speaker, if I could use, exploit all these things. I cannot. But in the same time, this doesn't change the situation that I read a lot. I would say the whole Hebrew literature, and the whole Jewish, Yiddish literature I read as a youngster. You can imagine, I read let's say, being, uh, twelve years old, I read [14:45] German, or "Nana" by Zola. You know, the life of the prostitute. I didn't know what it meant, but I read it. You know that years ago, even today, children of four or five years, and they start to learn the Talmud, sometimes there is a chapter -- not a chapter, a whole book -- about how women, all these things, I mean sexual life, they don't understand nothing, but they have to learn. Later on, they'll answer... Same thing....[15:25]

So I became nearer and nearer and nearer to the theatre. And I start to play with amateurs, in Yiddish. Then I organized amateurs in Hebrew. And the first thing that I did, I translated, I played, I played "Samson and Delilah" by Sven Lange. You know, this is the play that Ben Ami became so famous (in), and to this play, he played it first in America in Yiddish, and I have seen him, and took him over to the English, to the English stage....

D: Who was the author again?

Z: Sven Lange....

D: Sven Lange...

Z: He's a Jew. You don't know ,,, (unintelligible).... He's a Jew. He and his wife ... his... the main part in the play is the man, naturally, and the wife Dagma. And Dagma is his wife, an actress. And the whole story, that he tells in this story is really an attempt in his home. He was an actor of the Royal Theatre in Denmark. [16:33] He wrote that play. And I translated the play, and I played it, and I have seen it before in Polish. A very, very well-known Polish actor  -- and he became, I asked him, and he became the director of the play with me. He directed my play with amateurs. I played with a few actors too. But the main thing that I have re..., from that time, I think the most important thing is, that I came to the idea to make a change of both playing in Hebrew.

Let me explain what I mean. I was not the first to play in Hebrew. It was before me, they started to play Hebrew in schools, on occasions you know. And then I...the Jewish and Hebrew poet Itzhak Katzenelson. He was murdered by the Nazis. Well-known, one of the most important in his time. He wrote a lot of plays in Hebrew, and he played them with his family. You see, their opinion was [that] the main thing was to know the language, The play -- that's a sideline. I said, the main thing is to play. Language you can learn.

So I came at that time with a proposition. So this was the first performance by an actor in Hebrew. It came, at that time [when] we had in Lodz a well-known group in the theatre. And the head was Mr. Julius Adler. He played later with [Maurice] Schwartz. He was the "Schwartz of Europe". [18:18] All the Gordin plays, most of them, he brought from America and played them. So he knew Gordin only through the Adlers, and later he brought these plays for... for Esther Rokhl Kaminska too. To him. See, he was the man -- illegally you know -- but he brought all these plays, Gordin's plays, most of them, to Europe.

D: He was the liaison then.

Z: What?

D: The liaison.

Z: Oh, yeah, yeah. And he played in them too. And through these plays he became the big actor, because in the other plays, in the operettas, we had better ones. 

[18:55] So you can imagine a boy.... I was born in '94, so that's six and twelve, eighteen years [old]. I came to that well-known actor, and he was, I would say, like the English people you see: "You don't know me, how can you talk to me?" So I told him, I came with a proposition to play in Hebrew. He said, "Hebrew, I don't know". I said, "I will teach you". And really I translated for him every word. You see, he knew the play, he played it before in Yiddish, and I have seen him. But I had to translate word-by-word, not the meaning. The meaning he knew, and therefore I became the prompter. And we made the first performance by (unintelligible) remember, and among this group was a man, a teacher that became later on the head of the Habima, Menachem Genesee(sp) who played the (unintelligible)....

D: In Lodz....

Z:[20:00]  In Lodz, yeah. And then, after we played these, I came with another proposition to play....It was a tremendous success. Even he...he made a speech later on. Naturally, I come with a speech too. And then I came with a proposition to play "The New Ghetto" by Herzl. And we played it. It was tremendous... And then I came with another idea, to go to the Zionist Congress in Vienna. And we went there, we went there and we played there. It was a tremendous, a tremendous, not success -- people were busy. And another thing. We had a competition. Zemach, Nachum Zemach, the founder of the Habima. He, in that time, he organized a group in Bialystok. This is too a Polish-Russian, Russian town. He organized a group calling "Habima" --"The Stage". [21:00]

D: Yeah.

Z: So he came with a play, "Shma Yisrael". If you remember in that time it was a tremendous success. "Listen, Israel" by Dymov.

D: Yes.

Z: He came with that play, also with his group, So two groups, more actors than listeners. Then P(unintelligible word). And he went back, and then he came to Russia  You know what happened to him is another chapter. So I...

D: But the Habima actually started in Poland?

Z: In Poland, in Poland it started. His group started in Poland. So I look at me [21:32], as a, I would say if there can be a few fathers, one of the fathers of the professional Hebrew theatre. Not on the Yiddish, but on the professional Hebrew theatre.

[21:45] But coming back to the Yiddish theatre, being with these, uh, actors, Julius Adler I call you, he knew that I, and at that time I was published already my translation of "Keen", so he engaged me to become, like we had it years ago, he came from America and knew every theatre had this writer. So he engaged me. Naturally, I was not a writer like the other ones, I mean to write my own plays, but he engaged me as a translator and an "adoptioner1", if you can call it [that]. So the first play that, that I translated, and there was played was, uh, a German operetta, "Robert and Bertla", an operetta. Naturally, I don't write songs, lyrics, so a man by the name Bonvil(?) became a well-known Jewish, er, writer. Not a writer in books, but a writer for theatre. He was murdered by the White Russians. His daughter, Rukhl Bonvil, is a poetess in Soviet Russia. [23:04] So this was the first play, then Adler engaged me [to] open a theatre in Lodz (the Scala -- ed.), he engaged me, and they played every six weeks. I have, I had to give them a translation. And I became a member of our organization "Soiuz dramaticheskikh i muzykal'nykh pisatelei v Sankt-Peterburge2." It means "The Organization of Playwrights". And the uncle of the Czar was the president of that organization. I said you had no right to come to Peterburg. So they invited me to the meetings. They are, I mean, every year they had a meeting. A few days later, I got a letter to come the 17th. I got the letter [on] the 19th. See, and these were accepted. I got thirty dollars a month.[24:03] By the theatre, they paid me every night, as though for each act. Let's say I translated Hamlet for them. So it's five acts. So it's three rubles for each act, every night. Matinees it's two-ten.

So they played one play after the other, and I... I gave them a short time. I gave them a hundred.... "Keen" they played. They played... they played a play "A hintern moren", or "The Jewish, Di yidishe goyvern(?)", that's by Henderin(?) Natanson, a play... a Danish Jew too. And they played, uh, "Samson and Delilah", my translation. And they played "Farbrekhen un shtrof", by Dostoyevsky.

D: "The Broken Curse"?

Z: No, no, no, no. "Brekhen shtrof", that's "Crime and Punishment"...

D: "Crime and Punishment".

Z: "Crime and Punishment", an other plays. So it was a time that night after night I was played.... I mean my translation.  They started one play, and they finished the other. I made a lot of money. I'm not going to tell you what happened [to] that money...you know the Bourse(?)... I had it in the... in the bank of the Russian government, so... So then when, a year before the war, I became, I got a job at an advertising office. So you see, always, uh, I mean, [I was] surrounded with this group of people. It was by an Austrian, uh, Metzel(?), on account of the war naturally,[that] I could,  I could [not] work [any]more [in] than this office...It was closed... So I became a... I became a contributor in the newspaper [26:10], the newspaper that my father founded and (unintelligible)ed later. So I... I had to make... I use the word "to make".... millions for them. They gave me a home, and they caused an amount(?), a whole story, and I had to rebuild it, to localize it. They advertise it a few days before, and then I came. I came everyday to the newspaper. When I came ... and they started: "What, you advertised on both...another man's ...such things(?) as yours." I didn't know it. So I had no time to...to... to read it even. I had to give copy, you know.

So after, in time of war, in time of war I worked as a social worker, and in the middle of the war, this newspaper was closed because it was pro-Russian, and the Germans closed it. But later, they [re-]opened the newspaper, and I became inside every... I mean a staff member. Then I start(ed) to play again with, uh, amateurs.

End of part 1 of interview.
 
Part II: Talk mostly about raising money for the first volumes of Z.'s "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre"...


Z: ... the next meeting they came, and I made them a proposition. I told them, "If you need twelve thousand dollars, why do you have eight thousand dollars [in] expenses. I'll do the work. I'll do the work. If I do the work, you don't need, you don't need...

D: We'll just stop for a moment.

Z: Coming back to that, er, thing, So I made... I made a   So I made, I made, I said, "I don't know if you need a hundred thousand dollars, if you would say that the expenses are twelve thousand dollars. I'll do the work. Then anyway, They told that I'm crazy.

D: (unintelligible).

Z: No. I'll do the work, collect this money. But, I said, I'm going out, but who will give me money? And I... Jacob Kalich is the elected, was the president, and Jacob Kalich the treasurer. I'll print receipts in the name of Jacob Kalich, but Jacob Kalich has to give me the permission to sign it. And I'll make with you an American agreement -- "fifty-fifty". I'll collect six thousand dollars, and you will collect six thousand dollars.

As I mentioned before, they told anyway I'm crazy, and then who will give me money? So, if I wouldn't collect, they have no obligation. So, they agreed to it. I printed this book of receipts, and I went out, and in six weeks I collected $5,800. In that time, if I didn't make this mistake of all these people that making Bourse(?)... making mistakes later on, you can see it, If I would go in that time, not [that] I wouldn't make the campaign for six weeks, but that I'll go on for half-a-year, and not only went in a few towns that I ... I went to -- Boston, let's say, I never went to Washington, Boston and Chicago and... But if I would make a big, really a...a....a.... a raising money campaign, I could collect in that time $25-30,000, and have the whole money for the book ("Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" -- ed.) and [it] would [have been] publish[ed] years ago already.

But soon I got my... my part. I left America and went to Europe to collect materials. [2:53] And in the libraries there. And I came back. I'm not going into what I did in Europe. When I came back, it was the (unintelligible) already... So from that time on, I have -- I had and I have -- a committee on paper. Everything -- all these monies that was collected, all these other things -- that was done for the Lexicon, I did. I wouldn't say that sometimes some people didn't help me. But I have to organize and do everything, not only to collect the materials for the Lexicon, not only to talk to these hundreds of people, not only to read over the whole Jewish press, and I did it in the YIVO in Vilna for over half-a-year, day by day. I did it in the British Museum in London. I did it in the Harvard Library. I did it in the Public Library in New York, and in the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. I did it in the Vilna, I mentioned already the YIVO, but I did it in Jerusalem in the Hebrew University Library, and I did it in Argentine. When I was in Argentine, In Buenos Aires and later on Brazil, all over in all these countries, I went over to the libraries where I found something, except that I spoke to all the Jewish actors. And I never went to Russia. [4:46] But I took in, in the Lexicon, I didn't make any difference between political groups, and the whole Jewish theatre and the writers, playwrights of Russia, Soviet Russia, are included in the Lexicon. And I never went there because they didn't give me the permission. I asked for it. But I went to Berlin, when the Jewish Theatre of Moscow, by the late Mikhovich, played. I went to Berlin, especially, especially I went there to Berlin to talk to them and to get their biographies. Then I had correspondents in Russia, a few. And  I have here now, I don't know what will happen, I have here by forty or fifty biographies sent to me by the embassy, through the embassy in New York. They sent it through their embassy....

D: (unintelligible).

Z: [5:47] To the Russian Embassy. And they gave it to me. It's stamped by, you know. Everything must be by them, who and, Tever, Tever(sp), Isaac Tever, the playwright and poet. He signed all these biographies, that they are kosher, you can (unintelligible). So, So I mean to say, except all these... And another thing. When I started to work on that Lexicon in America -- I call the beginning in America -- we had the most fifteen books. I don't,,.. I...I...I wouldn't say fifteen, maybe ten books about Yiddish theatre. Now, as you can see in my library, I have over a hundred. And I read them all, and, uh, I...I have taken all these, what it said about that or another, everything I have to read and write on... So I worked for the Lexicon til '31. We published the first volume in New York. We arranged some performance for that purpose....

D: May I ask you one question before we begin...?

Z: Yeah.

D: When did you start the research for the first volume?

Z: I told you, not organized I started in 1912....

D: Yes. Back there?

Z: Yeah. But I would say about organized, I would say coming to America in '28. In '28. No, pardon me, in '26. '26.

D: So five years later...

Z: Five years later, we published the first vol... You see, we, we, Arnstein(?) and I were looking [7:32] for somebody in Australia. I had to wait ... weeks ... He didn't answer. I was waiting. It's like a traffic.... But if I could print, as I had, it was published already. So in, after that, you see officially I got forty dollars. I took this forty dollars that Cahan had offered me, I took it as a payment(?) for it. You see, officially I got forty dollars a week for my work. But, in fact, when you take all the time that I worked till I left that job -- if I called it a job. I got six dollars a week for my work. So you can't understand that I finished that job, I mean my job, the official job. I was packed, packed I would say, with uh, loans that I had to pay back [8:34], and I became the editor of the "Jewish American". I was eleven years the editor of "Jewish American". Yeah. Through this time, working on that Lexicon, seven times I went there and back. To Palestine, to Europe and South America. In '34....

D: Were those expenses ...

Z: What?

D: Of traveling....

Z: Yeah. They were exact(?). This doesn't go into my, into my wages.

D: Yeah.

Z: I should get forty dollars a week, 'cause this was my profession. I didn't do anything else. I lost my position at the "Forward"...

D: How about the... How about the cost of travel?

Z: I'll tell you...

D: Yeah.

Z: [9:20] To... to talk about travel, I have to tell you a joke.

D: Go ahead.

Z: Once, the manager of the Hebrew Actors Union, Reuben Guskin, the late Reuben Guskin, asked me, "Zylbercweig, a traveler you are, I would like to ask you, how much will cost me a trip to Europe?" I told him, "You see, there's no fourth class. That's third class, because his answer was "No, I would like to go as a mensch". You know, like a human being, I told him, "If to go like a mensch, you have to ask me, so you can understand my expense." Many times in New York,[10:00] I slept in the, in the elevators. Many times. And when I got an apartment. I got in (unintelligible) in the Bowery (unintelligible). Many times I ate breakfast at ten o'clock at night. I hungered.

When I... when I appeared sometimes in Romania, I spoke, I gave lectures. So I was forced to put on, they shouldn't see my, my, my, my shoes. I took everything for granted, because it was an idea for me, and it is.... See, I belong to a group of Jewish writers or Jewish cultural workers that recognize the importance of Yiddish theatre. [11:00] I think this is not only a branch of Jewish culture, but it is a force, and it is because things that(?) who wore there are, if not potential, there are in the (unintelligible), they are existing.  It was a very important matter for yudes, for Judaism, to hold together, to tie together, Jews from all over the world, to give them a lot of happiness, to remind them in their past, to bring them back a nostalgia of their towns, of their people. And, not less, to give them a lot of culture, Jewish culture, history, by all these plays. By Goldfaden, by Lateiner, by, by Professor Horowitz. With all the mistakes that they did, and later on by the first-class Jewish writers like Leivick, like Sholem Aleichem, like Peretz. And the younger. The younger writers. So these being sometimes in countries where this were the only sign, the only sign of being parts of Jews all over the world, the Yiddish theatre played a very big play, I would say as an interlude(?), or an overture, to our time when we are back, a nation -- a recognized nation -- with a land like Israel. Yiddish theatre, even for Zionism, even for the, the, I would say not the dream, but the fullfilness to go to Israel, did more for Zionism than the speakers, because it, originally when you see something on the stage, played with heart, like the Jewish actors played it always, it then [affects you] deeper than the speakers that they send up [13:37].

Except [there] was a time in Yiddish theatre [when] we helped, we helped the other side. Very large scale. Millions of dollars for the JOINT, collected through the Yiddish theatre, through the benefits in Yiddish theatre. So that my idea is, that the whole of Yiddish theatre is not recognized, and to be recognized, you have to give them the fundament. You have to give them facts. So therefore, I decided -- maybe I did not know when that I started, but in the work I came, I came to a conclusion that my work is a national work. It's a thing that is going to be recognized later on, even when [there] wouldn't be any sign more of living Yiddish theatre. [14:40]

So therefore I took for granted everything --"Like a soldier", I said. I'm in war, and I have to suffer. So in 1934, I went to Poland, and, and...

D: Excuse me. In 1931 the first edition was put out...

Z: Yes, yes.

D: And when the first edition came out....

Z: It was a tremendous success.

D: Yes.

Z: I have twenty-three critics (critiques -- ed.), twenty-three critics by the greatest Jewish writers. It was a...a...a.. an antflekung3. You know what means "antflekung"? Like you see a new world.... How do you call it?

D: A vision?

Z: No, no, no, no, no, no. I'm talking... not a vision. You see a new thing you've never, you've never seen.

So, but in the same time, they stand their old opinions same time. So we have no money. Had no money. Everything was a... Because you asked me before, "What about expenses?" I, I didn't forget. I would say that the three volumes, the expense for these three volumes went up to $50,000. I think so. And you have to remember that my part in it was, uh, I would say, four years, or let's say five years, fifty weeks, fifty times (ha, ha)... you know, it's two hundred and fifty weeks at six dollars. So it's the minimal. You know we have expense. I wouldn't mention it now. I wouldn't go into things that are minor things, so I published the third -- the second -- volume in Poland. I worked....

D: That was in '34.

Z: [16:40] In '34 it was published, yeah. And it was work done. I have to explain [to] you what I mean by that. You see, I worked in a very small place, in a forest. In a forest a Jewish writer [17:00] brought in there, two people, and his wife and a son. He's the only one that is notion(?) up, the son. So, and there they're composers. I mean, there they composed it. You know what means, composed it -- by hand. So every page they put on in an oven, you know, and they make paper mattes(?), not like here, paper mattes. So once they burned down the... the... the... how do you call it? ...the letters...

D: Yeah, the printing, yeah...

Z: ...It was burned down, so it... it is not the same height...

D: Yeah.

Z: You know what I mean?I I'll explain it to you. I want to say to you about the same height more, so it, it, it, didn't come out exactly. You see, let's say this "L".  See?

D: Yes, yes.

Z: Because he  put it back, this "F". (Z. is showing D. something as a demonstration of what he is talking about -- ed.) You see here, that I...I... So no printer accepted it in Warsaw. So...the mattes... and so one gentile accepted, and I had to stay there and ...

D ..correct...

Z: No not correct. Behind, to put on a piece of paper, they should be higher. You are, you can, you see, he I put down so this, you see, is more cut.... You see....

D: Yes, because you actually pushed it up..

Z: You see, so I became blind in an eye at that time. And I took everything. And then I came back with the book [18:43], so we printed only a small part, and I came back at that time to America and brought it from the second volume...

D: '34.

Z: Yeah. And I took money from my sister. She had a house in Tel Aviv in Palestine. I sold the house and borrowed the money.  And then I sent in back, I give it back by selling the book. But it came to a... a to a position, I would say, or to a, uh I mean, it came to a time that the income was, and here, listen to it, a dollar. A dollar. Somebody gave me -- at that time, a book cost six dollars. He gave me a dollar, meanwhile. A dollar income a week, you see. So I decided I can't go father. I have nowhere to borrow money too. So I accepted the job to become the editor of the "Jewish American". For half a salary. Half a salary I did work. I accepted. And from this half-a-salary I had to pay back the loans that I got... in the hundreds and hundreds of dollars. I paid back everybody. But soon I became the editor of the "American". I couldn't go on. So again, again the people that bought the first book or maybe gave a few dollars, I took part in a performance, came my (unintelligible) that even Maury Schwartz. He gave hundreds of dollars. He played many times performances. He's not mentioned it. So I came out with this idea of these journals that I, I have shown to you...

D: Yes. [20:38]

Z: The (two unintelligible Yiddish words) hesten (?) ...You see, by commercializing it . But in the same time, I printed it as a journal, and I left the leaves to collect... to be collected. So I did by two hundred pages. But I went to Los Angeles, and I fell in love with Los Angeles, with the idea to open here a daily radio program. And I left my position as the editor of the "Jewish American", and I came to Los Angeles. When I came to Los Angeles, I had a terrible time in the beginning. I lost every cent that I put in this radio. Again, I borrowed money. Again I lost everything. So I had no time to work on the, on these leaves, on the Lexicon. First thing, I couldn't do it here because it's not only a matter of writing. It's a matter to collect money, too. And I couldn't collect it here. So years passed by. Years passed by [and] I didn't do nothing. I even...

D: When did you first come out to Los Angeles?

Z: In '48.

D: Yeah.

Z: I even, I even, I even start to collect material for the Lexicon. I mean, I have newspapers. Each newspaper cost me thirty cents, or fifty maybe, because it's.. It's... It's in storages (sic), and take over from there, and take from place to place. You know, it costs money, everything. Some of them, er. you can't read (any)more. They're falling apart. [22:30]

But anyway, I start to work, but later on after a few years I've established my piece of bread(?) here in Los Angeles, and we are sitting here in Los Angeles now. I came with a proposition that we should change the -- I would say the policy -- of holding down the abc(?). We should change it. We should print as we have, and to mostly print people that are still alive. [23:02]  that we can at least get this few dollars that it cost their, their biography. I wouldn't say a whole, or part of it, sometimes the whole part. Naturally, I don't take a penny of it. And the same thing was with my, er, I would say, dear colleague, Jacob Mestel, that worked for two-and-a-half books, because the last half book I finished already. He died meanwhile...

D: He was of assistance...

Z: Oh yes, he was of assistance, especially it was very important later on when I was in Los Angeles, and he had to go  to the libraries, and he was very prompt, and I would say like the Germans, you see, very strict. He got a German education (?)...

D: He was very reliable...

Z: Oh yeah. A German education. See, he didn't got paid either for his work. He was only the poor reader. He got a dollar a page. But he didn't ... both of us, have nothing except the banquet, when it appeared(?). So the third volume I finished up already in Los Angeles. And for that purpose I went twice to New York, collected a little money too, and finished it up with $2,600 deficit, I mean, meanwhile I gave this $260 (sic) a check to pay up [the] printer and everything. From my pocket. But it's, its, it's, it's paid up already to me. And no matter...

D: In 1959?

Z: In 1959 was ... after twenty-five years....

D: Yes.

Z: See, and the truth is a half a book is older than the other half. Because one is finished fifteen years ago, before I left for Los Angeles through these leaves, and the other half is coming up-to-date. Now I'm working on the fourth volume. It's a matter again of $15,000 dollars the book. I mean the publishing, the printing, the binding, a few trips that I have to make, and I must make a few trips to New York. And, er, there are expenses. There's the usual: postage, packing, the, er, writing, sometimes, er, ordinarily there are a lot of expenses -- photographs and maps, maps (unintelligible)... Now, the third volume, the second part, and the fourth volume, is a little brighter than the first. First thing, there are more informations. And second, being that the situation has changed. When we started with the Lexicon, we still had hopes to give another edition. So for the first edition, it was enough. But today there's no more hope. So when I come to a biography of a deceased, I'm taking I would say I don't leave nothing out. Everything what can be collected, I... that I'm taking it, because I know this is the first and last edition of the Lexicon. I don't dream about another edition, even... I have a written plan here to make another edition [26:45] all, another way at all(?).

D: I'd like to hear about that.

Z: I'll tell you. My way now, I would like to make historical. I mean....

D: A chronology, chronological...

Z: Chronological. See I would like to make the first volume till Goldfaden, not [the] father.

D: What would that include?

Z: It shall include twenty-three writers.Twenty-three writers, the Purim-shpilers. All the Purim-shpilers and the Purim shpils. They are two things: the plays and the players. The badkhunim and the Broder Singer. This should be the first volume, till Goldfaden.

Then I would like to make the Goldfaden theatre, and, and, the people that are going, going with him, like Kiner(?) and Datlas(?)...

D: Yes. [27:34]

Z: Then the third--  four volumes to it -- the third would be Gordin and his people like Libin, Kobrin, the actors. The fourth should be the art theatres...

D: Yes. After the war...

Z: After the war, always. You see this is my... I have it written. I can show it to you. But I think it's, uh, more than a dream. Maybe this will be left only... I mean this... that's all...

D: It's possible.

Z: Ha, ha. So this is the thing, you see. And if you would ask me, and now it's 1912, and I have all this experience, if I will be ready to go over, yes, yes and yes. As I said before, I am a soldier. And a solider has to do something for his country. In my countries [28:39], my Jewish nation. My Jewish nation means my Jewish cultural life, and this, this cultural life, Yiddish theatre, Yiddish language and Yiddish theatre, plays a very, very big part. And I am proud if years later, somebody, that will look for something, will find it, and this will be the best kaddish after, I think...

D:  (unintelligible)...So that's quite an answer to a question. That's excellent.

Now before this tape finishes up, I want to ask you about this next volume that's coming up, that you know, that you're working on. The fourth volume of the Lex...

Z: I think the fourth volume will con... will contain more pages. I wouldn't say that it wouldn't be left out a lot. A lot will be left out, naturally, but where shall I take the the money?

D: Well, you think perhaps there will be a fifth volume?

Z: No.

D: Why?

Z: Why? I'll tell you why.

D: As a kind of a... a cap... as a kind of addendum to the first one.

Z: I'll tell you. I wouldn't ... I wouldn't mind to sit down and write, but I cannot take more on my shoulders to collect that money.

D: It's the raising of the money...

Z: Yeah. I'm a beggar, you see. .. and I.... People they hear it, they hear it, and I could show to them, but I have not a penny of it. Not only have I none, but I'm losing a lot of money because when I sit six, seven hours a day, on that work, I'm, I, I, I don't do nothing for my business. And my family is not so happy of it. And, and besides that, if I would come to somebody who opens his door nicely and... but they think they're doing something for me. You see? So, therefore, if some organization or some foundation would understand the necessity to finish this work, even to rebuild it from the beginning, I will be glad to work for nothing...

D: You would...What do you mean by "rebuilding it"? By this new plan...

Z: No, I'll tell you. There is no more, there is no more on the market the first and the second volume, at all.

D: Yeah.

Z: I cannot... People...I have over twenty letters...

D: I got from YIVO extra copies.

Z: And people are asking me...

D: Yeah.

Z: I can show you a lot of letters. There are today, when I talk to you, and today is the thirtieth of August in 1960, there are maybe two hundred and fifty books left of the third volume.

END OF PART II AND RECORDED INTERVIEW.

 
1-- perhaps this term means someone who adapts plays from another form.
2 -- Library of Congress transliteration of "Союз драматических и музыкальных писателей в Санкт-Петербурге". The acronym for this organization is ДРАМСОЮЗ" (DRAMSOIUZ).
3 -- "Antflekung" means "revelation" in English.


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