Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre



David Birnbaum

B. was born on 6 March 1904 in Warsaw, Poland. He learned in a cheder and in the municipal school. He studied to be a locksmith and then worked for four years.

As a conscientious Jewish worker, he had a close relationship with Yiddish culture, and feeling a desire for the Yiddish stage, he decided to go on another path, like most actors, who went to the theatre with no preparation. He joined the Yiddish dramatic school (director Dr. Weichert), where he studied for two years.

About the school Zygmunt Turkow writes:

"In the time of 'The Seven Who Were Hanged,' Jewish Warsaw added one more cultural institution: a Yiddish dramatic school, founded by the 'Culture League,' which was led by Dr. Weichert. ...In [artist] Jewish circles, the news of the introduction of a drama school was not received with any other enthusiasm. This did, however, signify a influx of new actors at the time when the old ones were living through an economic crisis. It was comforting that for the two years that the students need to last, the young would have regrets and looked for more wage-earning livelihoods.  The youngsters, however, seem to be stubborn and not only remorseful. The young boys, however, turned out to be stubborn and not only remorseful, but turned around after completing the school, united, created a studio under David Herman's direction. The new theatre group for a certain time played across various cities in the Polish province with significant success.


From the studio came out several talented, professional actors, who with time joined other theatres or created independent cultural positions. They belong to 'Birnbaum.' The David Herman Studio revived the 'Dybbuk,' staged 'Grine felder (Green Fields),' Herman's first conception of 'A Night in the Old Marketplace,' and several one-acters. At the end of 1925 the greater part of the group joined the newly created first Yiddish small-arts theatre 'Azazel.'"

Dr. Weichert, in his memoirs, he gave some details. He remarked that the "David Herman Studio" for virtually half a year toured across the towns of the eastern region, and in repertoire, besides the "Dybbuk" and "Green Fields" also gave a recitation from Peretz's "A Night in the Old Marketplace," together with Hirshbein's one-acter, "Elihu hanovi." At the beginning of 1926 the turn of the troupe, together with David Herman, within the small-arts theatre "Azazel," which then was organized in Warsaw. In the future years, "David Birnbaum had...occupied a prominent place in Yiddish dramatic theatre.

Weichert, speaking about his offering of "Hershele ostropoler" with the Vilna Troupe, remarked about B.: "David Birnbaum, assistant to the dark, kaltenevater beard was a simple, powerful man."

When the first Artists' Union later would organize a dramatic theatre in Warsaw, Dr. Weichert directed there Sholem Asch's play, "Reverend Dr. Zilber," and B. played the role of the beloved, about which W. wrote: "David Birnbaum was a graduate of my first dramatic school in 1924. A dear boy, A talented actor, but not a believer. In short the Yiddish theatre has a great lack of male believers and a not too much smaller number of female believers. First of all, because of the then conditions of life of the Jewish masses in Poland, they were thin-skinned and used to be sparse. And secondly, because older artisans usually did not allow for the verse of younger ones."

As to the second premiere in the theatre given Gottesfeld's "Parnose (Livelihood)," and about B.'s play, Dr. Weichert remarked: "David Birnbaum gave a wonderfully powerful [performance in the role of a] tramway conductor."

B. also participated in "Vikt," and writing about his local offering of Rolland's "Wolves," Zygmunt Turkow remarks: "The acting of other actors immediately provided a sample of harmonious gathering. ...They seconded the young group. ...Birnbaum." Writing about his offering of the Pinski's "Oyster (The Treasure)," Zygmunt Turkow again remarks: "From the other roles have been created from the past ...D. Birnbaum," and concerned about the embodiment of the young actuarial powers in Poland, he reminds B.

In 1938 B. played (together with Joel Bergman), Yakov  Reynglas, Shmuelik Goldstein, Chayale Shpier, Motl Kon, Masha Puterman and Esther Gruber) in Vilna in small-arts theatre "Balageneyden," which was maintained until the beginning of the Second World War. The theatre had also played in Grodno, Bialystok, Rovno, Lemberg and ended in Lodz. The Nazi Occupation captured him in Warsaw.

B. was married to Ruta Zandberg, the eldest daughter of Moshe and Tseshia Zandberg, a good pianist.

Jonas Turkow portrays such in his last period:

"He played in the best Yiddish theatres in Poland. David Birnbaum was strongly loved by his colleague-actors, due to his immediacy and heartiness.

He was strongly temperamental, had a healthy sense for humor and -- so far musically. This, as the wicked singer said, was married to the very musical Ruta Zandberg.

...David Birnbaum had He even tried before the introduction of Sigeta [sp] to organize a singing ensemble, the so-called 'Gezang-Finftl.' He was the first who prepared Diana Blumenfeld to perform with folk songs. She was together with the following in 'Finftl': Y. Greeenspan, the actor from the Polish stage -- Yosef Kinelski, Polia Rozen (the sister of the writer Ber Rozen), and the wife of the actor Yosef Neyvirt, Chana Grosberg's brother.


Ruta Zandberg

.When the 'Finftl' disbanded after the performances in several programs in the 'Melody Palace' on Rimarske Street, David Birnbaum bought a carriage and carried items from one place to a second. Later, in the ghetto, Birnbaum made a 'rickshaw' from the carriage and brought people from their work. This is how he made a living.

During the first 'settlement,' Moshele Zanderg and David Birnbaum were led away to Treblinka."

According to Jonas Turkow, on 19 April 1943, when the uprising came about in the Warsaw Ghetto, B.'s wife Ruta Zandberg, was to be moved to the Aryan side. Since then every track of her has disappeared, and she perished in the Warsaw Ghetto.

  • Jonas Turkow -- Extinguished Stars," Buenos Aires, 1953, Vol. 2, pp. 58-60, 103, 274.

  • Michael Weichert -- 'Zikhrones," Tel Aviv, 1961, Vol. 2, pp. 83, 85, 134, 170, 220, 221, 223.

  • Zygmunt Turkow -- "Di ibergerisene tkuph," Buenos Aires, 1961, pp. 73, 74, 205, 220, 313,






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 5, page 4127.

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