Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Lazar Kahan


Born on 9 January (Reyzen says 6 January) 1885 in Goldingen, Courland, where his father, R' Simeon Cohen, author of "Sher Simeon," etc., was magid and teacher instructor, later city magid and rabbi in Mitawa. He learned in a cheder and in the Zager yeshiva, and also with his father. At the age of fourteen, he began to take up with general studies; at the same time he was a Hebrew teacher. At the age of seventeen he arrived in Dvinsk as an extern, was drawn into the Tsieri-Zion movement, and in 1905 he was sent to Lodz, where for a certain time he directed party work. After the uniting of Tseiri-Zon and Poaeli Zion, he worked in Warsaw, where in 1906 he joined  the newspaper "Der Veg" and was  active later for a short time in the Seymistisher(sp) movement in Vilna, becoming the night editor for "Veg," and after the newspaper went under he became a contributor to "Unzer lebn," "Roman-tsaytung," "Idish Vokhnblat." At the end of 1907 he went over to Lodz as an editorial member of the first Yiddish province newspaper in Poland, "Lodzer nakhrikhten" (Editor Yeshaya Uger), and after it went under -- in the "Lodzer Togeblat," where he often published under the pseudonym of Lazar I. articles and reviews about Yiddish theatre for which a great interest had been manifested.

K. also was very active in the literary-dramatic societies such as "Harpe" and "Dramatic Arts," where he was chairman, going over to various journals and participated as a delegate for "Dramatic Arts" at the Czernowitz Conference, where he was chosen as secretary.

In "European Literature" (Warsaw, N' 32, 1910), K. published a highly interesting critique of Joel Entin's Yiddish translation of Ibsen's "Ghosts."

In March 1915, during the German occupation, K founded a Yiddish daily newspaper, "Dos Lodzer Folksblat," and in October in 1915 in Warsaw, with H. D. Nomberg as literary editor, he founded the "Warshaver Togeblat," in 1917 for a half-year published in Warsaw the weekly "Dos Folk," which later was taken over as an organ of the "Dos folk," which later was taken over as an organ of the "Folks Party," where K. became one of the directors. In July 1917 K. returned to Lodz and continued to take over the editing of the "Lodzer folksblat" and found in 1918 a publishing house, in which he also gave out his large translation of "Tayvels voyb" by Karl Shenher.

In 1922-23, together with his wife, [Rose] Shoshana, he directed with the "Skala" Theatre, and in 1922 together with Zalmen Zylbercweig issued and edited in Lodz the weekly "Theatre and Arts, illustrated weekly for theatre, music, arts and film (6 October-2 November 1922), and in 1923: "Theatre and Arts" (4 January-16 February 1923), where he often wrote about Yiddish theatre. K. also, together with his wife, translated the play, "Di reter fun moral" by Profan.

K. even edited several newspapers and journals, put out several books, an important book about the textile pioneers in Lodz, and settled with his family in Warsaw, where he was since 1926 one of the editors and main contributors of the daily newspaper, "Express," displaying with each opportunity a great interest for Yiddish theatre. At the same time K. is a correspondent for the "Forward" and Argentinean newspapers. In 1937 K. visited America .

During the outbreak of the First World War he fled across Lita to Soviet Russia, and from there across Siberia to Japan, where he performed in Kobe (Japan) for the first time in Yiddish, on 6 November 1941, during a literary evening in honor of S. Dubnow, and from there he went to Shanghai (China.) There he was locked by the Japanese into a ghetto, where he suffered from hunger, need and illness, performing at the same time in forums, wrote for the local Yiddish newspaper in Russian "Nasha Zhizn," the literary head of the Yiddish theatre productions, which his wife arranged and wrote about, and together with her, from memory, the plays that she acted in. After the liberation K. was the initiator to issue through the Yiddish writer-refugees in Yiddish a weekly "Unzer Velt" (written on a typewriter, photographed and then lithographed), where he was the main editor, with contributions by Moshe Elbaum and Jacob Fishman et al. At the same time, K. wrote a series of articles in the Russian-Yiddish newspaper "Yevreyskaya Zhizn" in Harbin. Finally there arrived a contract from America so he could travel there, but K. was ill, and he was taken away to a local hospital, where he died of typhus on 26 May 1946.

Melech Ravitch characterized him as such:

"...Kahan had a love for literature and theatre and was a good friend of every poet from Lodz and who had wished that they had used him to write for their newspaper. ...Kahan thought that a writer could write on every theme. With him completing an entire newspaper [in] under seven[?] names was a trifle. By nature, a gutmutiker, a human being, whose business was not a 'fly on the wall,' he was due to his leykhtkeyt in writing was always entangled in polemics, which he had not sought and did not want. Due to his wife, the beautiful actress [Rose] Shoshana, [and] furthermore he was always ensnared in theatre intrigues. With one word: a journalist in a French-Parisian style on the poor Jewish street in Lodz and Warsaw."

The writer Moshe Elbaum, who was together with K. in a wandering way in Japan and in Shanghai, writes:

"....It was a heylung and a genezung the tzuzamenzayn with Lazar Kahan to enjoy his eternal optimism and to look at his constant smile, which never left him, even on his death-bed. ...It was a tragic irony of the fate that grod the folks mensh and writer Lazar Kahan, who was for his entire life mitgangen with the public and struggling with the wider masses, that his body should lay in a cemetery of a veyter town, who remained a Jew, and It is not there any[one] that might make a "El maley rachamim.1"

  •  Zalmen Reyzen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature," Vol. IV, pp. 392-396.

  • D. Kromin -- Geshtorbn in elnt, "Forward," N. Y., 9 June 1946.

  • Melech Ravitch -- "Mayn leksikon," Montreal, 1947, pp. 139-41.

  • R. Shoshanah-Kahan -- "In feyer un flamen," Buenos Aires, 1949.

  • Moshe Elbaum -- Lazar Kahan --- tsen yor nokh zayn toyt baym tragishe umshtendn in shankhai, "Forward," N. Y., 26 May 1956.

1 -- "El malei rachamim" is a funeral prayer used by the Ashkenazi Jewish community. The chazzan recites it, for the ascension of the souls of the dead, during the funeral, going up to the grave of the departed, remembrance days, and other occasions on which the memory of the dead is recalled. -- Wikipedia.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 3, page 2249.

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