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Welcome to the Movies!



  The Cast:    
... Dobrish Berdyczewska
... Mr. Stein - HIAS director
... Miriam Berdyczewska
... Shimen, the Tailor
Mae Schoenfeld Alexander
... Dawid Berdyczewski
... The Cantor
... Malke, wife of Shimen
Mae Schoenfeld Izak
... Meir Berdyczewski
Mae Schoenfeld Samuel
... Hersh Leib, fabric wholesaler
Mae Schoenfeld Irving
... Aron 'Arele' Berdyczewski
... Irving Bird / Arnold Berd / Aron 'Arele' Berdyczewski as an adult
Mae Schoenfeld Edward
... as Berta Gerstin
Mae Schoenfeld Leon
Mae Schoenfeld Gustav
... as Orchestra Leader Abe Ellstein


(A Letter to Mother)
by Mendel Osherowitz

Directed by Joseph Green
Produced by Green-Film
Music by Abraham Ellstein
Filmed in Warsaw, Poland.

Yiddish with English subtitles
Released in the U.S. on September 14, 1939,
exactly two weeks after the Germans invaded Poland ...
black and white; 106 minutes


A Letter to Mother's tale of family disintegration and poverty serves as a metaphor for the displacements facing European Jews in 1939. One of the last Yiddish films made in Poland before the Nazi invasion, the film tells the story of a mother's persistent efforts to support her family. While her husband lives in America, Dobrish struggles to care for her three children in pre-WWI Polish Ukraine. After her family is pulled apart by severe poverty and the turmoil of war, Dobrish and her family make their way to New York and turn to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in search of a brighter future.

... The film opened to packed audiences at the Belmont Theatre in New York. Hailed by the New York Times as one of the best Yiddish films to reach America, "A Letter to Mother" was one of the highest grossing Yiddish film of its time. -- The National Center for Jewish Film

The following review of the Yiddish talkie, "A Brivele der mamen (A Letter to Mother)" was written by Ab. Cahan for the Yiddish Forward newspaper and was published on September 22, 1939.


A Yiddish talkie about Jewish life in Poland,
written by M. Osherowitch and directed by Joseph Green.

by Ab. Cahan

The talkie, "A Letter to Mother," begins at the Belmont Theatre on West 48th Street. When I went into the theatre and took my seat, my mind began to fill with the latest dispatches about the war. I must immediately admit that my mood had an effect on the impressions that the film made on me. It's a story set in a Polish city, and whether you like it or not, this is all poured into your hearts in the midst of the terrible Jewish tragedy that is happening there now. When, at a certain moment, a big headline appears in the talkie with the word "Warsaw," your heart becomes filled with bloody scenes that are not associated with the name Warsaw: bloody, shocked, miserable Jews in every way. More focus on this in passing. The reader already understands what is on his mind when sitting at such a talkie.


Ad for the film, as found in the Forverts the day after it opened, on September 15, 1939.

Sphinx Film presents Lucy and Misha German in "A Letter to Mother." Director: Joseph Green. Today, and every day, always at 11 in the morning. 25 cents until 1 in the afternoon. Great artistic triumph. Touching! Captivating! Belmont Theatre, 125 West 48th St., between 6th & 7th Avenues.

This is difficult to see, however, that the author, Moshe Osherowitch, has instilled in his work many true Jewish feelings, completely apart from the current events in the Polish cities and towns. In the play there is a person who plays a Jewish tailor, a cheerful, witty, emotional Jew, who in talking about his tailoring, makes the following remark: A good tailor enters into his work with feeling, with soul. If not, he shouldn't do it. The audience is friendly. I thought: Yes, Osherowitch has included in his manuscript many official warm feelings. And the multitude lifted up their voice and wept.

There is a lot of successful humor in the play, and in a certain portion of this it also "enters" into the Jewish hearts. Further, this is actually a talkie like all talkies. Here is not the place to talk about literature. When even Tolstoy would write for such a purpose, it would be from his masterpiece, "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," which also become a talkie, in the way we usually understand the meaning of the word. Literature demands details for which there is no space in a talkie.

The main question in such a case is how far it seems that the writer really liked it, and in this case the answer is a positive one. This is the main thing in literature in all its degrees. And as it was with my heart, as I sat in on the talk, so it was with the whole world with my heart. This was evident from the repercussions that the performance had on those present, and on the manner in which they responded. Everything was sincere, not made up, not fabricated, yet imbued with truthfulness, with soul.

In short, the subject matter is set out below: It's about a Jewish family in Poland. The burden of a livelihood lies entirely with the wife. She maintains a fashion store and always runs out of cash. She doesn't pay her bills on time, and the merchant (wholesaler) loses his temper and promises to keep lending. She appeals to him. He gives more, and a short time later she must go and ask him again. So she tortures herself and plagues herself.

Her husband? He is taken with entirely other things. He is an idealist, and the entire idealism lies in Jewish melodies. He is simply cooked with a new, successful tune. He also creates tunes by himself. He has a couple of friends; one of them is the cantor of a town who shares his enthusiasm with him. They often spend time together, singing melodies and expressing enthusiasm.

He is not dressed like an early Jew, but like a modern man. He does not wear a hat at home, and so also when he sits down to eat. But this is how the house behaves in the usual old-fashioned way. It is obvious that his son is wearing a hat.

The wife gives him love and life, and when, for example, their eldest son criticizes his father, why does he put all the burden and head-turning on her, she stops him, rebukes him and praises his father very much. He should be proud of such a father. He argues that he should not think that he has any secrets, the father. He is a goldsmith. Everything is good and everything is smooth, etc., etc.

This Jewish wife, Dobrish, as she is called, is the central role of the entire production. The role is played by Lucy German, and with my entire heart I want to say here that for me she has created a true pleasure from beginning to end. The character of the wife is a quiet one, a lay person, a good person. She is absolutely not a fighter. On the contrary, she is a good-hearted person, a quiet person. Her warmth and sympathetic feelings are expressed in a gentle, mild manner, always like this. In this quiet way, she evokes in you a dramatic interest, which is not easy to express in words. This is the type that Osherowitch has created, and I give him a great compliment, and also the actress Lucy German, who is almost the entire play.

Dobrish's character is played by Mrs. German in a natural, most impressive manner.

The aforementioned tailor is the comedian. The role is played by Max Bozyk -- also very pleasing, very natural and simple. The part that he plays is a tailor who loves a melody. In a popular way, he understands life and people well. He is wise and a little philosopher. In short, he is also interesting and dear.

The actor Alexander Stein, who plays as Dobrish's husband David, has a weaker role, the type that is brought up is actually a foundation for a richer, more interesting and better role. The idea is about a liberal Jew, who is full of enthusiasm for music, and who is so involved in it that he actually treats his wife very unsympathetically. He leaves to her the heavy struggle of a livelihood, with all the troubles with which it is associated, and he feels no responsibility. But he is actually a Jew with appeal. This idea evokes in you a figure and a chain of situations that engage in literary work of a delicate kind. But as I said, such things happen very infrequently in a talkie.

The talkie contains many tragedies of the quiet sort.

People choose in America. Since there is not enough money on shipping cards, the father goes first. He becomes a peddler in New York. Later he dies. The young boy also goes off to America, and finally the mother travels there. The oldest son dies. About the youngest son, the young boy who in the first part of the play never wears a hat, there is also no trace. Due to the World War in 1914, there is turmoil, a jumble. The war ends and many Jewish families travel to America. Finally Dobrish, with the help of New York's "HIAS," finds the opportunity to come. Also the sympathetic tailor arrives with his family. We see everyone on the ship.

There is a lot of humor, and a lot of heartfelt laughter in these scenes, as the tailor's wife actually packs her things to travel to "Columbus' country."

By accident at a concert in New York, where a famous Jewish tenor with a foreign name sings, Dobrish still loves the content of his song, that this is her child. And the ending is naturally a "happy ending."

In the family of David and Dobrish, there is also a daughter who has a husband. She loves him, but no. She is in love with a dance teacher, and she flees with him. But she comes back, poor and broken. It turns out that the teacher had a wife with a child. The role is played by Gertie Bulman. She makes a good impression, although the role is not important.

Misha German has a side role. He appears as a representative of "HIAS," from America. He visits Poland and helps Jewish immigrants, and he travels with the aforementioned family to New York, Later she sees him at "HIAS" in New York. I have not seen Misha German for a long time. At first I did not recognize him.

He made me think that this is Moshkovitch in his younger years. But I immediately realized who this was. He makes a fine impression, as always.

The role of the singer is played by Edmund Zayenda.

The talkie is directed by Joseph Green, and the music was composed by Ab. Ellstein.


Here is a short video clip from the film.



Cast listings courtesy of

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