Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre



Regina Zucker


Born on 10 May 1899 in Grodzisk, Poland. Father – owner of a cane and umbrella factory. She studied in a public school. During World War I, she left to Russia, and in Kharkov she joined Lipowski’s Jewish troupe as a chorister [member of singing group]In her autobiography, printed in 1928 in "The Kalisher [city in Ukraine] Life" (and reprinted in 1929 in the "Theatre Newspaper") she recounts:

"I remember a fact, as I was ten years old, I was once crying from morning to night that my mother should give me a ticket to go to the theatre [a theatre ticket]. But my mother did not want to give me a ticket, so I ran along with my older sister, and ignored that they did not want to let me into the theatre, I sneaked in and then for the first time experienced the play 'Khurbn Yerushalayim' ['The Destruction of Jerusalem']. In the year 1915, when the Russians evacuated us from Grodzisk, we left for Russia, and when we came to Kharkov we had to live like the homeless. We had nowhere to go and we suffered from hunger. By chance, I befriended an actor, who recognized in me certain performing talents, and seeing in me a pretty sixteen-year-old girl, they took me on in the choir of the Kharkov Jewish Theatre. This Jewish actor, however, was only looking after his own good and was worried that I would not willingly follow his aspirations [do everything he told me to do, or be as successful as he thought I would be], and was worried that I would not be given a role and not be able to advance. That’s how I struggled until 1918, when I returned home to Grodzisk and became undone as an ‘artist.’"

When she returned to Poland, Zucker debuted in a provincial troupe as an "American" in Schorr's operetta, "The Girl From the West [The American (female)]," in the town of Amshinov, and then traveled with the troupe across various towns. In 1920, she arrived in Reishe (Galicia), where she became acquainted with the actor Karl Zimbalist, joined his troupe, performed for six months in Radom as a soubrette, married him, and from then on she performed as the "star" in Warsaw, Polish and Galician provinces, then starred in the London Pavilion Theatre, and performed on the same stage as her husband. To their question about who I was (a performing employee), I replied a soubrette, even though I had no idea what a soubrette was. They convinced hem to perform with them, but I used all kinds of excuses to get out of that. The troupe went to Amshinov, and they began to train me for the role of the "American" of Schorr [the playwright]. That was the first play in which I performed (as an actress). At that time, I performed with a wild temperament, and I was immediately loved by the public and became their darling. Since then, I began to travel with the troupe in and across many cities, and we were hungry much of the time. We simply had to sell some of our things in order to have a small pieces of dry bread. In 1920 we arrived in Reishe. There my husband now, Zimbalist, was hired by the troupe, and at that time he already was a famous actor. Zimbalist, seeing that I had great talent, convinced me not to travel with all kinds of small troupes, but I should go to Warsaw with him, where he himself would establish a troupe. (Here Zucker describes how she traveled by train, hungry and without tickets for two days and nights.) Zimbalist put together a troupe in Warsaw and set me up right at the head. We left for Radom, where we performed for six months with a great success. After that I already performed in Warsaw, London... Paris, and now I received an invitation from Romania, Argentina, but I did not accept these invitations because I wanted to remain in Poland where there was a large Jewish population."

Jonas Turkow describes her as such:

"Not only was Regina Zucker the personification of the trash theatre [for your information, this was a theatre that attracted mass Jewish audiences, noisy and demonstrative. Mixtures of comedy, farce and melodrama, performances invariably, included singing and dancing. Stage directors were unknown and scripts were irrelevant to the semiliterate performers. The action, on primitive stages with simple props and backdrops, was constructed around the leading actor or actress. This Yiddish popular theatre, about which we still know very little, has been subsumed under the term shund (trash), and disparaged by critics and historians for nearly a century. Yet the poet Itsik Manger described this theatre as follows:

Without theatre studies, without acting academies, they played... They played 'by heart,' and it was good, better than good. I was play for the sake of play, theatre for the sake of theatre. They ignored the 'texts,' mocked the 'authors.' Instinctively they felt that they were free, and in their freedom overturned all the stupidities of the 'authors.' They improvised freely on the stage, and the improvisations were filled with grace." (Manger, 1968, pl. 13) theatre. But first of all because she reached the highest level in this type of theatre, she was crowned with the title, "The Queen of Trash."

Regina Zucker was enormously popular not only in Poland, but in the entire world, wherever they performed Yiddish theatre. She was popular not only with those masses who were spectators, and who lived their lives through this type of performance repertoire, but also through the constant attack by the Jewish press in Poland against this "trash repertoire," and because the arrows were always directed at Regina Zucker. When she came as a guest performer to Vilna, she was so "welcomed" by the local Jewish press that she had to cut her plans and leave Vilna, which once and for all became closed to her. But after all this, Regina Zucker was a great stage talent, possessed endless charm and simplicity, had a fiery temperament, and really burned the stage floors with her performances.

Regina Zucker was a simple person and was driven by her instinct that could not always distinguish between what was allowed and what was not. She was without any control or direction about where there were borders, and where one could not trespass. She was guided by her basic talent that directed her, and mainly misdirected her.

Jonas Turkow, in his book, "Extinguished Stars," describes in detail the last theatre period of Zucker and her tragic end.

"First in the Warsaw Ghetto I thought that if such a power had the opportunity to perform in a better, theatre, in a cultured environment and with a decent regime, if only she would have some education, read a Jewish book, what use the Jewish stage would be able to make of her! Regina Zucker was a warm-hearted, sincere person, a good friend with a broad, caring heart. When I saw Regina Zucker perform for the first time in my life, during the Nazi occupation, on the stage in the Warsaw Melody Palace doing a Yiddish folk song, I remained as if dumbstruck. This is Regina Zucker? This was a huge talent who deserved honorary praise, and how we could have used her!

The Eldorado Theatre in Warsaw hired Regina Zucker as its 'star,' and she 'reigned' for a year's time, performing there her entire pre-war repertoire under the direction of her husband Karl Zimbalist. She also performed in several cafés in the ghetto and had her crowd that loved and adored her. For them Regina Zucker was a magnetic word. When the Germans made their propaganda film in the ghetto 'Asia and Central Europe,' then Regina had to perform in those as well.

During the Aktzia [roundup] in the Warsaw Ghetto, Regina Zucker and her husband Karl Zimbalist were together with me and my wife in the 'shop' on Milna Street. This was a difficult time of experiences and fear of death! Regina Zucker's husband, the actor and operetta director Karl Zimbalist, worked together with us men. After the first Selektzia [selected to live or to die], that took place in our 'shop.' Regina Zucker decided that she would go over to a nearby different 'shop' that belong to Shultz and see if that place would be safer and better... Karl Zimbalist stayed with us.

At the end of September 1942 it became very 'hot' in the ghetto. May Aktzias took place (considering that in the morning an Aktzia took place in the larger ghetto, and Turkow and his wife deiced to go there figuring that in the afternoon there could be this sort of Aktzia where they are. A small group of actors went with them, and among them Zucker's husband Zymbalist. On the way they fell into the Germans' hands, and were herded away to the Umschlagplatz [deportation point], and from there to the gas chambers in Treblinka.) When Regina Zucker came back to us the following morning from her new 'shop,' she already did not find her husband Karl Zimbalist. Very depressed she returned to her new 'hom' to Shultz's 'shop.' One day when I was there and asked for Regina Zucker, they told me that during a smaller Aktzia, she and Yocheved Zilberg's and Meyer Viner's wonderful daughter Marisha, were taken away. About six days later, an old, thin, tattered dirty woman, with darkened eyes and white hair, came to us on Milna Street. Not one of us recognized this woman. This was Regina Zucker. Whimpering and running with tears, she told us the following terrible story: When she was sitting in her workshop on Nowolipki Street in Shultz's 'shop,' in the satin unit where she was working as a seamstress, suddenly SS men burst in and grabbed away all the seamstresses. With Regina Zucker there was Yocheved Zilber's and Meyer Vinder's small daughter Marisha. She took her by the hand, and together with the entire group of women, they marched out to the Umschlagplatz. The entire area was filled with tens of thousands of Jews. In the large building of the former Jewish hospital (prior to that it was a Polish public school) on Stavki Street, into which the woman's transport was crowded in, there was no room even to stand. People were stuck to one another. Many people lost their minds, or jumped through the windows, falling dead from a German bullet that hit them. From the filth, terrible odor and crowdedness alone, you could already go crazy. There was not even one drop of water to be had. Forget about having even a morsel of food. Physical needs were taken care of right under yourself, so that people were standing in excrement right up to their knees. When you could not stand on your feet for one minute longer out of exhaustion, you had to sit down, up to our neck in the horrible conditions. On the third day, when they heard steps of Ukrainians and Lithuanians who came for victims, Regina Zucker and Marisha Vinder dunked down and hid under the filth... Other women did the same by following this example. But they choked on the terrible odor and were left for dead. When most of the women were already taken out, a Ukrainian police noticed that something was moving, and aiming his gun to shoot, he yelled, 'Get out or I will shoot!' Regina Zucker had a large jewel with her, and thanks to that she was able to get out of the murderer's hands. The Vinder's daughter who was noticed by a Ukrainian, in no way wanted to let her go, and led away the beautiful girl... After a few days the Ukrainian hid Regina Zucker on the Umschlagplatz and brought her back to the ghetto one night. She came to us on Milna Street in a terrible state.

Regina Zucker did not stop crying and moaning about the death of the wondrously beautiful child of the artistic Vinder couple. She [Regina] even wanted to commit suicide and could not be comforted--if not today, then tomorrow we would all suffer the same fate. The fellow actors who worked in Shultz's 'shop' to get Regina back there. Women were no longer permitted to be with us on Milna Street.

After some time we willingly or unwillingly became accustomed to our situation. Those who remained still had to live. The lonely Regina Zucker married the lone survivor Izak Samberg (his wife Helena Gotlieb was taken away to Treblinka at the first Aktzia), and together they made plans for the future. They always hoped they would survive the war, but it wasn't destined for Regina to have a long and happy life with her second husband Izak Samberg. They were soon evacuated during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising) to the camp in Poniatow, and from there taken to Majdanek to their death. On 3 November 1943, the day that they shot 18,000 Jews under the strains of a Strauss Vienna waltz, Regina Zucker and her husband Izak Samberg and others, met their martyred death."


M.E. by Karl Zimbalist.

  • Regina Zucker – ‘The Road to the Stage’; “The Kalisher Life”; Kalish, Sept. 14, 1928.

  • Regina Zucker – ‘The Hunger Years of a Yiddish Soubrette’; “Theater Newspaper,” Warsaw, (11-12) 4-5, 1929.

  • Sh. C. (Shimon Cahan) – ‘The New Theatre with which They Remembered Us’; “The Vilna Day”; Vilna, October 10, 1930.

  • H.N. Weinik – ‘The Beginning of the Theatre Season in Vilna’; there, October 17, 1930.

  • A. Schwartzer (Y. Nisenboim) – “Itzikl Kwat” and Regina Zucker, “Lublin Daily”; Lublin, November 12, 1930.

  • Jonas Turkow – ‘Extinguished Stars’; Buenos Aires, 1853, Volume I, 77, 28, 58, 89, 107, 116-121.








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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 5, page 3853.

Translation courtesy of Jeff Branzburg.

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