Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre



     Wolf Durmashkin
D. was born in 1908 in Vilna, Polish Lithuania. He was the son of a famous Vilna cantor, director and teacher of music in several synagogues. His name was Akiva Durmashkin (according to the Teacher's Memorial Book).

D. completed the Vilna state conservatory and quickly became one of the outstanding conductors in Vilna. At first he mainly worked as an accompanist for which he proved to be exemplary. Afterwards he was involved in Vilna with several of the best choirs. Later he was associated with the symphony orchestra that was considered to be the best in Lithuania.

In the teacher's memorial book it is written:

"Akiva's son a graduate of the conservatory, a music instructor in Vilna (died in Ponar in 1941), was born in Vilna in 1914. Still as a young boy he demonstrated great musical talent. His father began to teach him piano when he was four years old. At seven years of age the young wonder-child gave concerts for packed halls. At sixteen Wolf graduated from the Hebrew High School in Vilna. In 1937 he graduated the Vilna conservatory and moved to Warsaw to study with the famous professor Berdiyev. The professor recognized him as one of his best and most talented students. Due to the outbreak of the First World War, Wolf left Warsaw and returned to Vilna. He quickly was appointed as conductor of the Vilna Philharmonic and fulfilled his role with great success. Critics predicted a wonderful future for him. In 1940 he conducted the opera "Aida" in Yiddish. He taught in several Jewish schools and high schools. His subject was music theory. He was a favorite teacher among his students."


In his "Diary of the Vilna Ghetto" H. Kruk tells us that D. was killed one day before the liberation on 19 September 1944 (Rosh Hashana) and that:

"In the Ghetto two choirs were created, a Hebrew and a Yiddish one. The Hebrew choir was led by the musician (Wolf) Durmashkin.  ...(26 April 1942) In the newly renovated hall that had been known as the old small town hall, they held the premiere of the first presentation by the Ghetto Theatre presented by the culture committee.  ...According to the opening speech given by the chairman, Eng. Nochman, a concert was given by the junior symphonic orchestra under the baton of Durmashkin, and a piano concert plus a series of dramatic theatrical presentations. The show itself was perfect. But the evening was chaotic. ...(9 August 1942) The third symphony concert was presented in the hall of the Ghetto Theatre. Once again the same talent and the same chaos occurred. The Ghetto demonstrated excellence and great measures of talent. The last concert under the baton of W. Durmashkin demonstrated that in the domain of musical art, the Ghetto's stands behind no one. The concert by the Ghetto was on a very high level, for an hour and a half from start to finish, it was a great accomplishment. Today, (13 May 1943) in connection with  the anniversary of the symphonic orchestra in the Ghetto, there is an echo of another concert (which took place the evening before), which was a benefit concert in honor of the director Mr. W. Durmashkin. ...(June 12, 1943) Two days earlier in the Ghetto Theatre there was a fiery premiere by the Hebrew dramatic studio in the Ghetto. It was a performance of Pinski's "The Eternal Jew." The event was entirely in the hands of the students, most of whom were policemen. The direction was under the Jewish artist Beregolsky and music maestro--W. Durmashkin. This play, as with other Ghetto presentations, left a very strong impression. Most importantly , the mass scenes in the first act."

In the Vilna Ghetto -- as shown by Sh. Kaczerginski -- D. demonstrated his artistic talent, organizational skills and conducted the symphony orchestra, which was far better than the city orchestra. The  Estrada Orchestra together with the Hebrew choir and the children's choir was outstanding . D. also wrote a large musical work with musical accompaniment to the presentation of "The Eternal Jew."

D. in fact, also led the symphony orchestra on the Aryan side of the Ghetto. Officially he was listed as a correspondent. Afterwards when attempts were made to try to save him, they were unsuccessful. When the ghetto was liquidated D. was sent to Estonia. In one of the camps he lost several fingers. Finally in the summer of 1944 he was burned in an Estonian concentration camp."

About his tragic end it was written in the "Teachers' Memorial Book":

"The bloody year 1941 was a difficult one for the young artist. But neither the walls of the Ghetto, nor the awful occupation of the Germans, could contain him. He wanted to use every opportunity to show off his talent. He organized a first-class symphony orchestra in the Vilna Ghetto. Under perilous conditions he stole himself out of the Ghetto and created instrumental notes. He received the first Ghetto prize awarded for music for his "Elegy for Ponar." He also continued to be involved with the Hebrew Choir and wrote music to the opera by D. Pinski "The Eternal Jew." In the Ghetto he created a music school. After that they tried to rescue him from the Ghetto, but it was not successful."

His sisters tell us that even in the Estonian concentration camp he continued to use his musical talent, and actually an hour before liberation he was incinerated by the Nazis.

His two sisters, Henny and Fanny, students of the Vilna conservatory, succeeded in saving themselves and now live in New York. They were witnesses to the Nuremberg Trials at the International Tribunal in the sentencing against the Nazi murderers. A record was produced by them "Songs to Remember" (Vilna Ghetto and Hebrew Songs) sung by Henny Durmashkin and accompanied on the piano by her sister Fanny.

Sh.E. from David Rogow and Sh.E. from Henny and Fanny Durmashkin.

  • Sh. Kaczerginski -- "The Destruction of Vilna," New York, 1947, pp. 223-24.

  • "Lerer yiskor-bukh," New York, 1954, pp. 125-126.

  • H. Kruk -- Togbukh fun vilner geto," New York, 1961, pp. 235, 244, 329, 560, 570.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 5, page 4019.

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