Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre



Frida Vitalina
(Shimaliska, Lapin)

W. was born on 5 June 1886 in Vilna, Poland/Lithuania. Her father was the founder of a travel agency. At home she received a non-religious education. She also studied Bible and Hebrew. She finished Junior High School, (A middle school,) and at twenty-one graduated from the dental institute in Kiev. During her student years she became involved in revolutionary activities. Due to her activities in a left-wing organization, she was arrested at an early age.

Still as a young child she disguised herself and imitated various types of people. At age sixteen she became involved with an amateur production together with actors who would later became famous, Bertanoff, Molsky, et al.  In 1910 she joined an amateur theatre group under the direction of Ben-Ami and Peretz Hirshbein. In 1915, she was in Russia, where W. became involved in a Russian amateur play. In 1920, she gave up her profession as a dentist and moved to Kovno in Lithuania, where she joined several Yiddish presentations. In 1921 she performed for the "Yiddish-Artistic-Theatre" (under the management of A. Azro). She joined this troupe and traveled with them throughout the larger cities in Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, and England. From 1923 to 1925 she performed with the "Vilna Troupe" in New York and throughout the United States and Canada. She worked in New York's "Unzer Theatre" (her role was the rabbi’s wife in An-Sky’s "Day and Night"). W. returned to Europe, and in 1926 she was hired by Abraham Morevsky in Riga for the "New Yiddish Theatre." She remained there till 1930.


Writing about this period Sh. Bliacher wrote:

"From those days we can locate a long list of Witalin’s works, which were as memorable, outstanding, colorful personas; e.g. the "Market Woman" in I.D. Berkowitz’s "Moshke the Pig." Another noteworthy work she created was in the role of the "Chicken Plucker" in Dymow’s "Yoshke the Musician." The play too was acclaimed as a masterwork. What’s more, after a whole line of splendid stage characters in which W. appeared at that time, W. was an unparalleled dramatic actress. But she never performed in the "A. G. Shund Theatre." Except for one time, when she was tempted with a certain role in a melodrama. The artist Kutner at that time in Riga produced a play "Berele Bosak." He hired W. to perform as a mother. Here too she shone. When W. played a role she filled the words written on paper into a living soul. But she never could forgive herself for allowing them to talk her into playing the role in that theatre. She did, however, redeem her "sin" with a whole array of memorable personas in the better Yiddish dramas. She was a fine "Yetty-Meny" in Sholem Aleichem’s "200,000." W. was a charming "Rokhl" in Hirshbein’s "Green Fields," and a splendid "Grandmother" in An-sky’s "Dybbuk." She displayed much feeling and good heartedness in her role in the "Maid" in "Kiddush Hashem" ("The Martyr"), and a whole line-up of women for the four years that she played in Riga. In 1931 she returned once more to Poland.  Here she undertook a long tour with the "Vilna Troupe." She played the "Rabbi’s Wife" in An-sky’s "Day and Night," the "Madam" in Bergelson’s "The "Pigeon Flyer." In 1933 she returned to Vilna and decided to stay on for a longer run in the theatre and once again started to practice dentistry and community work.  Among other activities she becomes an administrator/volunteer in the Vilna Theatrical Association."

A characteristic episode is told by Sh. Bliacher:

In Vilna, on German Street # 35, in the entranceway to a building, there hung a sign: "P. Shimliska, Dentist." On the third story moving around was an attractive woman in a white robe filling teeth, curing some toothaches and taking others out. For each of her patients she had a good word to offer. Suddenly, talking with a patient who had a toothache on a stool we were looking at the doctor herself. She seemed familiar... And she, seeing the patients painful expression, would smile: "What are you look at me that way?" -- She would ask? "You look so familiar to me. Where have I seen you before?" "Me? I  think you saw me in the theatre. I am, you see, the actress Frida Vitalina."

In 1936 W. played in Vilna in the "Vilna Theatre" with Jonas Turkow. There she portrayed one of her most memorable characters: "The Teacher Vimmer"  in Fedor’s "Matura." After Turkow left Vilna, she once again ceased playing in  regular Yiddish theatre at the founding in 1939 for "Yiktov" ("Yiddishe Kunst Theatre") in Vilna.

About her last years and her tragic death, Sh. Bliacher wrote:

"In the ensemble she played one of the most important parts. ...She played the mother-role in the "Platoon Tavern" and in "My Son," and in a whole array of smaller roles. Due to a misunderstanding she was arrested and jailed for a few days in the Lukishker jail. After the Nazi occupation of Vilna she was arrested during the first few days of the Occupation. But once more lady luck was on her side and she was freed. At first she worked in the Second Ghetto in their health center. Later she moved to the larger First Ghetto, where she worked for an even longer time in the Health Department. When Jews were transferred to the factories in the Second Ghetto she was among them. Here W. together with a group of artists who were also moved there. After being there for a few days she tried to escape, but alas it failed. On a teary September morning, the stagehand Shlomo Feinberg, who was in hiding in the unit where he worked, saw how on Legianver Street they were herding Jews in the direction of the Ponar Forest. Among them were a large number of artists with their heads held high and striding with them with pride was Frieda Vitalina."

Sh. Kacerginski points out:

Frida Vitalina (her birth name was Shimeliska), from her husband her family name was -- Lapin) was born in 1881 in Vilna an actor from the Vilna Troupe (she was famous for playing mother roles.)

She tried to run away but due to the constant bombing on the roads she turned around and returned to Vilna.

V. was arrested immediately after returning. She had an opportunity to be released from prison. She was sent to the Second Ghetto, and from there along with all the other Jews to Ponar.

  • "Lexicon of Yiddish Theatre," New York, 1931, Vol. I, pp. 669-670.

  • Sh. Kacerginski -- "Khurbn vilne," New York, 1947, p. 225.

  • Zygmunt Turkow -- "Di ibergerisene tkuph," Buenos Aires, 1961, p. 290.

  • Sh. Bliacher -- "Eyn un tsvantsik un eyner," New York, 1962, pp. 49-51.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 5, page 3781.

Translation courtesy of Paul Azaroff.

Yiou can read the Lexicon's initial biography of Frida, in it's Vol. !.

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