Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre



Ben-Zion Sigal


S. was born on 15 October 1900 in the village of Oleyevo, Eastern Galicia. His father was a Husiatiner Chasid, a poor man, a handler of chickens [hiner]. From his early years he felt the harsh days of poverty, and he tried to help out with the income for the home, had to, as a young student, become a teacher of the youngest children [da'rdeke-melamed]. Without the knowledge of his parents he attended the local folks-shul, where he studied in a skullcap [yarmulke]. He was raised with a maternal son, Michael Preiss (the late Yiddish actor), and together [they] weaved dreams for the future, which were however interrupted because of the outbreak of the First World War, when Brusilov's Russian Army crossed over the Austrian border, and the Jews began to flee and were frightened of the Russian Kossacks. Evacuated to Vienna, S.'s father was taken into the Austrian Army, and his son remained the only provider for the family. He began with small rags; worked in various factories and did all the difficult work. He continued to study secular subjects, reading books and became caught up in a Yiddish theatre. Here he felt that this was the striving to which he had received from his early youth gebenkt. Here he renewed his friendship with his young friend Michael Preiss, who had decided determinedly to become an actor.

S. was taken in to the association, "Zion," which was interested in productions of literary plays under the stage direction of Yona Reizman and Jacob Mestel, and he debuted here as "Jacob Enman" in Dymow's "Shma Yisroel." At the same time he attended the dramatic courses of the head stage director of the Vienna City Theatre Julius Hale and also studied in the theatre school, which had been founded by the society "Fraye yidishe folks-bine" (teachers Egon Brecher, Jacob Mestel, Dr. Frish and I./Y. Baltuch).

In May 1920 S. was taken in as a professional into the troupe that Itzhak Deytsh had put together for Kur-Platz Mareinbad, and here he debuted as "Dr. Abram" in Lateiner's "Khinke-Pinke" in a restaurant of David Laytner. After playing there for three months, he returned to Vienna, where he joined the "Fraye Yidishe Folks-Biene," which had transformed into a stable, Yiddish theatre. He also traveled with the theatre on a tour across Romania (1921-22). After the dismissal of the troupe, S. joined the Yiddish "Stefani" Theatre, then he traveled around with Stromer's troupe across the Czech Republic. In 1923-24 he played in Budapest and then returned to Vienna.

Jonas Turkow writes about him:

"Ben-Zion Sigal falls into the category of useful actors on the Yiddish stage. He had a huge love for Yiddish theatre, and it is a serious matter to be regrettable. He was an intelligent man, very educated, and also was well-versed in political matters. Therefore they indeed had called him 'The Politico (Der poitker).' Sigal, however, had a passion that had hindered him a lot in his theatre activities: Besides chess, which he gladly played, he however had more love for cards. His entire free time he filled with card-playing, from which he had a hard time breaking away from.

As an actor he excelled in an entire series of roles. He did not have any special mention. He had played everything. When someone from the troupe was sick, he immediately took the role, and sometimes it was impossible to tell whether he was acting, or if it was the other actor, who had become sick. Sigal was a specialist in copying, and especially excelled in copying the great Yiddish actor Yona Reizman. He had copied him with every detail, to the smallest nuances.

When the Nazis took over the rule in Vienna, Ben-Zion Sigal, together with his wife [the actress] Rukhl (Rachel) Weissberg and their two children, fled to Czechoslovakia. From there they were deported to Lemberg, from where they made their last tour--in the gas chambers of Belzec.

His brother, Dr. David, living in New York.

  • "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre," Warsaw, 1934, Vol. II, pp. 1469-1470.

  • Jonas Turkow -- "Extinguished Stars," Buenos Aires, 1953, Vol. 2, pp. 205-210.





Home       |       Site Map       |      Exhibitions      |      About the Museum       |       Education      |      Contact Us       |       Links

Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 5, page 4005.

Copyright   Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved.