Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre



Yitzhak Valdberg

Born on 21 July 1889 in Lemberg, Galicia. His father was a clothing merchant and a manager of a tailor's workshop. He learned in a cheder, and in a school. He sang in temple, and in the children's chorus of a Yiddish theatre. Underdeveloped, V. began to play comic roles with amateurs, but his parents were dissatisfied with it and entered him into a hat business, only V. continued with playing with acting. In 1911 he fled to Kolomea in Norbert Glimer's troupe, where he debuted as "Motele" in Gordin's "God, Man and Devil." After playing for a year in a chorus with Hart in Stanislawow, playing roles at the same time.

 In 1913 V. was with a member's group, which was under the direction of Palepade. During the First World War he put together a troupe of "amateurs" in Krakow, was taken into the army, and as a prisoner-of-war he played Yiddish theatre in a prison camp by Austria.

About this Alter Eisenshlos, also a prisoner-of-war in Mehrn writes:

"We immediately sent a request to the officer-in-chief and asked the petitioners for a permit [to play theatre], stating that from day to night melancholy and despairing, it would certainly make sense that in order to avoid such danger, a license for theatre performances is very much needed. It did not take long. A reply came back, that although the time is not very apt to play the theatre, it is still granted permission for Yiddish theatre performances. There must, however, be unconditional copies of the plays to be performed.

As soon as the repentance arrived, they became true 'Jews.' Immediately they were professional artists, a comedian, a certain Waldberg and his wife, who later moved to the Yiddish stage' in Vienna. ... (But there were no plays.) The entire joy was not destroyed because of it. The severe revision saved the bad situation that H. Valdberg made for himself in Coyber, and there found out the old role of 'Diego Francisco' from the operetta 'Kol Nidre.' It was therefore decided to make an evening of singing and declamations, and this Valdberg couple should perform all the scenes of Diego Francisco. ... Under the instructions of Mssrs. Zilber and Valdberg, in several days it was performed on a stage with all his knack."

From 1915-20 he acted with Podzamce in Vienna, later for a short time in Romania. From 1922-23, he worked in cafe houses, until he went back in 1924 into the Vienna Yiddish theatre. Then he began to wander with the itinerant troupes across Czechoslovakia. About this account, Sh.Y. Harendorf in his book "Theatre Caravans" recalls, that the troupe, which played under the direction of Abish Meisels in Marienbad, where there also was situated the Belz rabbi, it was decided to visit the rabbi and ask him for a blessing:

"The first of the actors who reached the rabbi was a member of our troupe, Valdberg he was called. He was small and lean, like a small stick, and the actors called him "Kokele" (May he forgive me, this Yiddish actor, when I want to make him a bad advertisement in that world, that he was a weak comedian.) When he handed the rabbi his little hand there, the rabbi asked him what his livelihood was.

When he gave the Rebbe his small, thin hand the rabbi asked him what’s your livelihood?

-- An actor -- answered Valdberg.

-- What kind of profession is that? -- the Rebbe wanted to know.

-- I’m an art maker -- Valdberg wanted him to understand in his Lemberger dialect.

-- What kind of art? (We shouldn’t know from it). Can you show it? -- The Rebbe became curious.

The Rebbe’s gabbai (administrator) mixed in and tried to explain to the Rebbe, saying:

-- Rebbe he is a Purimshpiler, one of the colony of clowns … a wanderer … They’re putting on a Purim play …

-- So! You are a Purim player -- wondered the Rebbe -- And from this you’re able to make ends meet throughout the year?

-- No, Rebbe -- Valdberg was trembling with fear -- I’m not a Purim player …

-- Rebbe -- butts in the gabbai -- he’s a badkhan (a jester).

-- So? The Belzer Rebbe started to understand the matter …

-- You’re a badkhan, and you make the people happy …

During the entire time of this chat the Belzer Rebbe did not lift up his eyes, but when Valdberg told him that he is an art maker, he lifted his head and looked deeply at him. The Rebbe understood that Valdberg’s story about art is somehow not an every day thing.

-- That’s no business for a Jew. -- God should send you a complete recovery for your soul.

In the last years V. went from Vienna back to Lemberg. During the Second World War he had, together with the Lemberg Jewish State Theatre, evacuated to the Soviet Union, and during the typhus epidemic in Bukhara he passed away.

  • "Lexicon of Yiddish Theatre," New York, 1931, Vol. 1, pl. 646.

  • A. Eyzenshlos -- Yidish teater in di estreykhishe barakn-lagers (in Zalmen Zylbercweig's "Theatre Memories"), Vilna, 1928, pp. 11-20.

  • Sh.Y. Harendorf -- "Theatre Caravans," London, 1955, pp. 145-147.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 5, page 4041.

You can read Yitzhak's initial "Lexicon" biography in its Volume 1.

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