Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Max Karp


He may have been born circa 1856 in Sandov Vishnia, near Lemberg, Galicia. He immigrated to Romania, where he worked as an employee in a large firm in Galatz (Galati), where he met Goldfaden in February 1877 in a "Lebanon" association meeting, and as Goldfaden depicted him in his autobiography of their very first meeting:

"Finally the door opened, and in came an elegantly dressed young man, his physiognomy was fairly easy to recognize, that he is of the noble Jewish ideal. He is a bookkeeper from a large firm. His fine behavior, his beautiful German and French speech, had me overloaded, and as every brother, after the ceremonial fareins-tseychns, he had also deceived us, and with my hands according to fareins-tseychns, pressed and came up to me, "Brother Karp," and that this brother Karp would later take on an important chapter within my account, because not me, not him, had in that moment realized [their] dreams. No, normally we had nothing to think about, that he would be, with time, a Yiddish actor, and that with time he would later play a great role among the best artists of the Yiddish theatre. We will later return to this person, especially the reader will meet him in Russia, where he had been his career in Petersburg with us as a Yiddish actor."

In another place in his autobiography, Avraham Goldfaden writes:
Among all the guests that night was the young man Karp, who I have mentioned once before. A very elegant cavalier, net and

neatly dressed, possessing a little education, French, German, including Romanian. He was a bookkeeper from a large Galatz firm, and he is descended from a very fine family. As you remember from earlier, he was one of my brothers from the "Lebanon" Association. Sometimes he paid us a visit, and for fun he performed a song. I heard his remarkable born bass profundo voice, and I was overwhelmed. Normally I would not have used this [opportunity] to make a proposal to him, that he should be engaged to the Yiddish stage, but, as you see, there were things that one could still not call "theatre." He made a face that looked like a mess, and he had the right when he himself had been hurt, but nevertheless I was easily given to listen to a voice produced in his throat, a God-given [gift], and when he dedicated himself to the European stage, he honored himself and the entire Jewry. He gave me no answer. But in his lowering his eyes to the ground, and his face, which suddenly became red, I understood that he was hurt... I quickly turned this conversation onto another topic."

At first when Goldfaden began to play in Odessa, K. decided to become a Yiddish actor, and he entered into Goldfaden's troupe. Writing about the history of Yiddish theatre, B. Gorin wrote:

"In Odessa now also arrived Max Karp. He still was not an actor, but he had a close relationship to the Yiddish theatre, and as such he had a good voice, and they had soon taken him into the theatre".

As Goldfaden remarked in his accounts, K. later played a large role during the productions of the troupe in Petersburg. K. later, as did every Yiddish actor after the ban on Yiddish theatre in Russia, immigrated to London, England, and in 1883 he, together with the troupe, played with Zilberman, who was descended from Moshe and Esther Zilberman, M. Chaimovich and his wife (the future Sara Adler), M. Borodkin and wife, M. Wachtel and the composer Joseph Lateiner, arrived in America.

According to Max Rosenthal, K. was a lovely figure on the stage. He was the hearty and best singer, a bass-baritone. He had in his song the Jewish groan like no other Yiddish singer.

When K. began to act in America, Boris Thomashefsky remarked: "Max Karp, the talented singer, turns worlds". And seeing him act as "Manoakh" in Shulamis, Thomashefsky remarked: "Max Karp was badly made up, badly dressed, but when he began to sing, one forgave everything. He was a beautiful singer, with a wonderful bass-baritone voice and a great musician."

In America K. acted in various troupes and traveled to Europe, from where he had brought Sophie Goldstein, with whom he married and continued to play in America. According to Bessie Thomashefsky, in 1888 he performed in Boston as "Uriel Acosta".

In 1890 K. had founded in New York a "student dramatic young men's society."

In 1892 K. acted in the role of "Yitzhak Halpern" in Jacob Gordin's first play "The Pogrom in Russia."

In 1894 he played in Philadelphia. While playing in Pittsburgh, a fire broke out in a place where he had found himself. With gas flowing out, without clothing he froze, and two years after that developed a lung inflammation, to which he was moreover continued drinking alcohol, he passed away on 17 November 1898 in San Francisco, California.

In the Yiddish Department of the New York Public Library one can also find a booklet "Shirim khodeshim barts khodesh, enthaltend yude und humoristishen inhahmkhunh bshm tfartu multes fon max karp" [in English there is also mentioned "from the Oriental Theatre,"] New York 1887, 64 pp., 16, with a special page of advertisements. The booklet has ten songs and is dedicated to "honor hrbni hgbir, ikr rukh vndib lb, hmkhunh bshm tfarsu mu"h nkhmih hchhn n"y, hubl shi lut khbud turh zbrkh mat ebdu vmkhbdu".

In the theatre archives at YIVO, there is a photograph of his gravestone.

M. E. by Max Rosenthal.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. I, pp. 192, 211, 242; Vol. II, pp. 30, 52, 150.

  • Boris Thomashefsky -- Thomashefsky Writes of the Yiddish Theatre in San Francisco," "Forward," N.Y., 26 March 1921.

  • "Goldfaden-bukh," New York, 1926, p. 62.

  • Sholem Perlmutter -- Der onfang fun idishn teater, "Di idishe velt," Philadelphia, 30 April, 7 May 1929.

  • Boris Thomashefsky -- Zayn lebens-bukh, "Forward," N.Y., 25, 26 March 1936.

  • Boris Thomashefsky -- "Mayn lebens-geshikhte," New York, 1937, pp. 132, 155.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 4, page 2585.

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