work in his trade for the Hungarian theatre. As a result
Melekh Hershkovitsh, with his pale complexion, became a
Yiddish actor. He was a very weak actor. Luckily, he did
possess a lot of "chutzpah" and bragged that he was
educated as one of the best Yiddish actors.
Melekh Hershkovitsh was a tall well-built person, but he
used to act as a small man, despite his size, in walk-on
roles in plays. These were performed on the Viennese
"Free Yiddish Folk-Stage."
In the posters and flyers of the "Free Yiddish
Folk-Stage" the names of members of the ensemble were
listed, not in their rank as actors, but alphabetically.
It therefore happened that Hershkovitsh name appeared
close to the top, near that of Dr. Paul Baratov, who in
those years was a frequent guest star in that Yiddish
theatre. Hershkovitsh, however, was convinced since his
name came right after Itche Deitch, that he was one of
the most important member of the troupe. His superiority
complex knew no limits, but when it came to actual
performances he was a second-grade actor. He couldn’t
deliver the merchandise. Hence, on the stage he was
treated as if he was a small child by all the other
Here, Harendorf tells us of an episode that occurred
where he carried out a certain scene on the stage that
led to his being fired.
"Hershkovitsh ended his career as a member of the
ensemble of the 'Free Yiddish Folk-Stage' theatre. But
he did not give in to despair.
he began to write plays with the help of dilettantes
that existed at that time in several Viennese districts.
From time to time they staged 'honorary evenings' or
'benefits' eking out a miserable living."
Hershkovitsh goes on to tell us that Harendorf had an
episode with a small troupe of eight people in the
summer of 1928. They traveled all over Slovakia,
performing "The Dybbuk" bringing in Hershkovitsh to play
the role of "Sender Brinitzer." He tells us how he
couldn’t manage to figure out how to play the role. It
was on that stage that he become a failure."
After Hitler’s march into Vienna H. escaped to Belgium
from where he was deported to Auschwitz. There he was
shot by the camp commander.
H. wrote several plays; "The Stepmother" presented in
August 1920 in the "Bavarian Court Hotel," "The
Misfortunes of the Jews in Galicia" (a time capsule in
three acts), appearing in the "Rolland Theatre" on 21
August 1921, "Seven Men’s Wife" (a drama in three acts),
presented in the Yiddish Artistic Cabaret (Led by Max
Shtreng) on 2 May 1926, and other one-act plays.
his book "Extinguished Stars," describes him in this
manner and recounts his tragic end.
"Melekh Hershkovitsh was tall and well-built and
corpulent. He loved the theatre. He was very
industrious. He also was a good mimic. Among others, he
mimicked Baratov and Maurice Schwartz. One had the
impression that we were looking at the actual persons
that he mimicked.
He was very popular in Vienna because they held frequent
benefits that he himself staged. He went from house to
house selling tickets. He made money by delivering
speeches, half-German, half-Yiddish. He cried to them
telling them that his competition were spreading
falsehoods about him, and didn’t give him a chance to
breathe. These 'original' speeches would often begin in
this manner: 'Dear, beloved ladies and gentlemen and
especially my dear artistic friends'…here he called out
the name of a diploma-holding intellectual whom he
sighted in the theatre. For doctors, lawyers and other
high-ranking professionals he had a soft spot in his
heart. He laid on the schmaltz for them.
Hershkovitsh was a man of the people and possessed lots
of charm. He, himself, believed in his incomparable
talent and that his competition wanted to bury him. From
time to time he organized troupes and traveled with them
for guest appearances to Czechoslovakia. There they
played the repertoires of Baratov, and also of Maurice
When the Nazis captured Vienna and began to bring about
their New World Order, Hershkovitsh was deported to
Auschwitz. The survivors of these terrible death camps
told us about Hershkovitsh. They said that he conducted
himself courageously. He sang and performed for Jews,
who would shortly be taken to the death chambers. He
gave them the strength in their last hours. He was very
much beloved in Auschwitz. There, however, his speeches
did not work. Melekh Hershkowitch’s body was burned
shortly before the end of the war.."
"Lexicon of Yiddish
Theatre," New York, 1931, Vol. 1, pp. 636-638.
Jonas Turkow --
"Extinguished Stars," Buenos Aires, 1953, Vol. 2,
Sh.Y. Harendorf --
"Theatre Caravans," London, 1955, pp. 102-106.