Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre



Herman Fisher


Born in 1878 in Bendin, Poland. His grandfather and father handled fish, and from that -- according to Jonas Turkow -- he took his family name. His father was a Chasid and had his son sent to learn in a yeshiva, but F. secretly caught secular studies. He wasn't permitted [to go] to productions of the Yiddish troupes that had visited Bendin, and he became as such caught up with them, that on a certain day he left home with an itinerant troupe. As a handsome young man, F. dreamed about acting in lover roles, but there lacked in him two precise elements: talent and a good speaking voice; he had a hoarse voice, he obviously could play the role to which he strove, but he also not been successful in character roles.

He came to Lodz, and there he found the performing  A.I. Kaminski's troupe. He had made such a strong impression on her that he just entered the troupe so they should include him. He became taken in as a copier of the plays into German (for the center, the so-called 'Center Kes'), and then as a prompter.

In the early Yiddish theatre the role of prompter was very much an important one, and he took on a prominent position in a troupe because the actors hadn't been known to learn their roles by heart, and moreover as a prompter, one had to be well-acquainted with the small characters, and F. was entirely well-versed in Yiddish, German and also in Russian.

Later F. also became an assistant stage manager, and in this office he also remained until the end of his life.

About his new office and his later career, in which Jonas Turkow in his book "Farloshene shtern (Extinguished Stars)":

"The assistant stage manager, at times with Yiddish theatre had the promise of a 'star', setting up the stage, supplying the decorations, requisitioning and costuming and preparing the understudies for the production (at that time there were no directors in the full sense of the word). When Fisher went over to another troupe, he staged the plays there that had been put on in the previous theatres where he had worked., copying it to the last detail. So thus he also became a regisseur (French: stage director), d"h, submitting the posters and programs [that read]: Director -- Herman Fisher.

When the 'Fareynikte trupe (United Troupe)', the first dramatic troupe in Warsaw, was founded with Esther Rukhl Kaminska....Fisher was engaged as a prompter  and assistant director. With the 'United Troupe' Herman Fisher made the triumphant tour throughout Russia, including Petersburg and Moscow.... In Odessa Fisher was introduced to a chorus girl from the Yiddish theatre, Liza Barska, married her and from then on traveled around with her."

In 1916, F. became the stage inspector in the Central Theatre in Warsaw, where the equipment of the plays had in him a faithful guard.

Jonas Turkow writes:

"Herman Fisher had, according to his wife Liza, a love for the community. Tsumetum was fully with him. He knew about everything, and always had to tell about some 'event' from behind the scenes. He had that good fortune, that he had always, during a production, 'calls' from the actors, and they had been late for their performances. For the same reasons, he also had been late to leave the research at the right time.

Herman Fisher was the artisan(?) (horepashnik) of the Yiddish theatre. On his shoulders he had carried the heavy burden of an itinerant life, all obstacles and temptations that the Yiddish theatre that he had made it through in Czarist Russia. Not from one difficult situation Herman Fisher had saved the troupe. When there was a need to quickly translate a Yiddish play into Russian, so he prepared it, that the censor would not find anything 'treyfes (unkosher)' (niebloganadiozhna) -- Fisher got it done. Fisher was very industrious and filled with energy. He also, by organizing the professional lives of other actors, had not performed in a small role. He was one of the founders of the first Yiddish Artists Union in Poland, and has manifested a sense for organizational matters".

Top, left: "Jersey Morda" in Gogol's "Revizor (The Inspector General)" (drawing by F. Fridman)
Top, right: In "The Seven Who Were Hanged" by L. Andreyev

And about his last period, Jonas Turkow writes:

"When the war broke out, Herman Fisher was with his family, in Warsaw under the Germans. He was already old and weak. His wife, whom he had loved very much and who was deeply connected to him, died from typhus during the Nazi Occupation. This affected him very much. His consolation, however, was his children, for whom he had a deep love for. He had not stopped to speak about his son Boris, who had finished up in engineering in America and worked with airplanes. the entire hope he had laid in Boris in whom he had seen the onshpar to old age(?).... When the Warsaw ghetto was hermetically closed, his daughter Luba Fisher was no longer able to come to him, as well as to send him support.

Herman Fisher had worked in the ghetto for a certain time in the Yiddish theatre as an assistant director. ...When the 'action' began in the ghetto, Herman Fisher and his daughter Anya came to work in a 'placówka' (laborer in a workplace outside the ghetto). ....Herman Fisher with his daughter Anya had belonged to the 'lucky ones', to the chosen, because the 'placówka' workers were always coming back from the Aryan side with food and thus didn't have to go hungry. The also had smuggled out from the ghetto various things to sell on the Aryan side (then they had Polish Jewish things that they could sell, that were not yet taken by force).

Also once, standing by the ghetto gate, I saw the old Herman Fisher with his daughter Anya, who happened to be in the ranks of a group of workers, just about ready to be passed by the German control for the Aryan side. Fisher then looked twenty years younger. He had a glowing shine about him. He noticed me and shouted out: 'Well, thank God, it goes very well for me'...

That was the last time that I seen the Fishers. I cried out to him: 'Good luck', but he did not have much longer to live. Eyewitnesses have told me that one fine day in early 1943, his entire work party was surrounded when they reached the gates of the ghetto, and they were all led off to the 'Umschlagplatz' and loaded onto the wagons. As to where they were taken, to Treblinka or Majdanek, no one knows. Anyway what is the difference? The end was the same in both cases -- in the gas chambers therein."

  • Jonas Turkow -- "Farloshene shtern," Buenos Aires, 1953, Volume 1, pp. 122-128.

  • Zigmunt Turkow -- "Di ibergeristene skufh," Buenos Aires, 1961, pp. 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 3987.

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