Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre



Adolf Berman

B. was born on 27 November 1872 in Warsaw, Poland. His father was a tailor. He completed a Sunday trade school, and as a youth he sang in the German synagogue on Tlamatske, and moved over from there to Avraham Goldfaden and Avraham Tantzman into the children's chorus in the "Eldorado" Theatre(here Ester Rokhl Kaminska also began as a chorister). In 1892, together with Mitelman, Liebert, Kaminski, Avraham Yitskhok and Ester Rokhl Kaminski, Shaye Rotshteyn and Zilberberg, he began to act on the Yiddish stage in Warsaw with the Russian director Olginska, debuting as "Komisar" in "Koldunye." In 1894 B. toured across the Polish province with the troupe of the then-famous actor-writer Adolf Shliferstein. In 1898 he was engaged, already as a rezionor, in the troupe of his older brother Herman Berman, and A.Y. Kaminski. In 1900, when Yiddish theatre was forbidden, B. toured with Yiddish actors  as a Russian and German quartet. The ten-famous 'song-and-dance kapele' (B., his brother Herman, Shayele Rotshteyn and Gustav Shvartsbard) across Poland, Lita (Lithuania), and Russia. Then the 'kapele' reorganized, and international forces were drawn to her, for whom they toured across several European countries.

In 1908 B. was engaged to Zandberg in Lodz's "Grand" Theatre, where he acted for several years, and where he also staged for the first time in Europe Jacob Gordin's "Elisha ben Abuyah." In 1913 B. acted with in Warsaw  (direction -- L. Rapel and H. Epelberg) with the guest-starring Clara Young, where he was especially popular in the role of "Litvak" in Schorr's "Di amerikanerin (The American Woman?)," then he participated in


European operetta repertoire with Nadya Neroslavska.

Jonas Turkow writes:

"During the First World War, in the year 1915, when the Germans had, after taking Warsaw, not permitted any Yiddish theatre, Berman had, together with the comic Shayele Rotshteyn and  Fiszelewicz, founded a vaudeville theatre in a dance hall on Twarda Street Number 7 in Warsaw, where they played and sang in the Polish language, which Adolf Berman had well dominated. When Poland became independent and Yosef Pilsudski returned from the German Magdeburg fortress and triumphantly entered Warsaw, Adolf Berman utilized the appropriate moment, ran to Prilutski and handed him a written request with the words: 'Save me.' In the request Adolf Berman invited Prilutski to enable him to play Yiddish theatre. In around a few days Adolf Berman received the first concession to play Yiddish theatre in Poland. This case was then called a great sight (?).

Adolf Berman had, together with his brother-in-law, the known singer Gustav Shvartsbard, organized an 'itinerant troupe.' ... The troupe traveled across the entire Polish province year-round, and for a long time staying on the eastern border areas of the Polish kingdom in the Berman-Shvartsbard troupe, having put their first steps ahead of young actors who Adolf Berman had come very close."

Jonas Turkow also recalls that B. is, just like his older brother Herman, who was a great jokester and used to love to play various pranks, especially those that used to come behind the curtain to close 'friendships' with actresses. Turkow details in his book, "Extinguished Stars," some of the pranks and episodes. he also explains curious episodes about B.'s strong appetite for eating.

After the First World War B. for a certain time played with Ester Rokhl Kaminska, then in a revue theatre "Sambatyon," and toured with a troupe for which he was the initiator. Here he also directed under the name "Yiddish Blood," Lermontov's tragedy, "Di shpanier' (translation of Nathan Zylbercweig).

B. also participated in the films "Di farshtoysene tokhter," "Der vilder foter (The Harsh Father)," by Z. Libin, and "Tkies khaf (The Vow)" by Yehiel (Henryk) Bojm.

Remaining in Warsaw, B. became older, later taking on small roles in various troupes.

Jonas Turkow, in his book, "Extinguished Stars," characterizes him this way:

"Adolf Berman possessed all the virtues that an actor should have: great stage abilities, a beautiful appearance, tall, well-built, and a good diction. Thereby he had a beautiful bass voice. Berman played all the hero roles. ... He was very beloved by the public. He specially excelled in the European operettas, thanks to his imposing figure and intelligent attitude. For a certain time he even played in Polish theatre.

When Adolf Berman played in Warsaw, one could always see him walking across the streets with the role in hand and speaking the phrase in his voice. He did not cease to study a well-known role, whether at home or in the street. He had a rare relationship to his work in theatre: He was always the first to the rehearsals, always knowing his role from the outside, and always created something new. It was a big surprise to everyone, when Adolf Berman appeared in the role of 'Litvak' in the operetta 'Di amerikanerin,' with Clara Young (Warsaw, 1913). With that role he created a great name [for himself]. True Litvaks who were in the theatre said that he is a better 'Litvak' than them ... "

But he was not only good in comic roles. He was, in his period of splendor, one of the best 'rezionorn" of the Yiddish stage in Poland. He was a splendid 'father' role player, and one of the best 'intelligent' role players, Contrary to the 'private' Adolf Berman -- the good-natured, always smiling, lovely human being and friend, he always went his own way and never fought with his fellow actors."

And about his last years and tragic end, Jonas Turkow writes:

"At the outbreak of the (Second) World War, Adolf Berman was found in Warsaw. When almost everyone ran east, they were asked why he was not leaving. Berman smiled and answered, 'In my years I will not go far, and, moreover, what can the German men do to me? I'll tell them a joke in good German, they'll break up and leave me' ...

However, he made a mistake. The Germans very often treated him with a blow before he appeared to open his mouth. When he entered the artists' kitchen (in the ghetto), after 'soup,' which the leader of the kitchen, the actress Leah Levebrovski had presented him, indeed, in a doubled variety, and he finally got as much as he wanted (there wasn't more soup by noon), they simply did not recognize him. 'Whom do you play now, Arele,What made you think so?' -- The Levebroski asked him with a smile. This time there wasn't any smile from his side. The Germans had beaten Berman so murderously, that he was barely alive in the artists' kitchen on the second floor, holding on to the swollen eye, that the Germans had not chopped his hair off. He leaned down on one leg and looked at it with laughter: "Well, how did the grim, what the Krauts did to me ?!" -- he joked. But on the eve of the fall, Berman did not come into the kitchen for the soup (His wife, a little earlier, became paralyzed, and died soon after.) The soup was sent home to him because he was lying ill in bed. The love value of the artist kitchen, Levebrovski, every one had their heads. Berman no longer rose from bed. Sick for a period of time, our darling, the lifelong lover Adolf Berman, died in the ghetto, a 'natural' death."

  • "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre," New York, Vol. 1, 1931, p. 204.

  • Jonas Turkow -- "Extinguished Stars," Buenos Aires, 1953, Vol. 1, pp. 221-227.

  • Zygmunt Turkow -- "Di ibergerisene tkuph," Buenos Aires, 1961, pp. 97, 171, 418.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 5, page 3734.

You can read Adolf's first biography in the "Lexicon" in Volume 1.

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