Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Leah Kompaneyets


K. was born in Kiev, Ukraine  Her parents were merchants. Already as a fourteen-year-old girl she entered into the troupe of Abraham Fiszon under the name "Trotskaya," where she quickly became a prima donna.

K. married young with the actor and theatre director Aba Kompaneyets, and thus connected her fate with his. She performed as a prima donna in the troupes that her husband led by himself, or with partners. Then she went over to dramatic roles, and later to character and mother roles.

For many years K. suffered with a diabetic illness, which had strengthened in recent years with her in particular. Her heart, however, was always for the stage, with her children and grandchildren. Until the last minute of her life, she had not ceased to worry and think about the Yiddish actors, who were as close to her as her own children.

In recent times K. lived together with her husband in the French town Ben (sp), 180 kilometers from Paris. Like every year, she also celebrated the last day of the Yom Kippur. Coming home after Taanit, she somehow was overpowered and soon felt bad. Until a doctor came, she passed away. This was Motzei Yom Kippur, 7 October 1935.

The dead body was brought to Paris, where she found her eternal rest at the Cimetière de Bagneux.

The actor Lazar Freed characterized her this way:

" ... The memory of Leah Kompaneyets' personality is much higher than that of my humble self or anyone else's. A higher being than many in our profession, and hence ... the future historian or researcher of Yiddish theatre have wonderful material about the woman or women of the Yiddish stage, but from Leah Kompaneyets he will have very unique and interesting material. She actually is one of the very first pioneers of Yiddish theatre, and being a pioneer forty-five years ago (written in 1935), was ready for a lot of dissuasion and suffering in a way of thorns and stones. The level of the average little Jewish citizen was then very small. Theatricals were almost forbidden for religious and moral reasons, passed over to the female actress, who was considered by Jews as the symbol of variety, and these were almost the main motives for the creator of the Yiddish theatre: difficulty writing and creating women's roles, which were then mostly played by men. Many actors of the past generation began with women's roles: Gradner, Mogulesco, Leiser Zuckerman, Fiskhkind, and many others. The first play, or Purim Shpiel, was played positively by men, and therefore Jewish women had a wonderful courage, had a wonderful career, a mighty urge to go onto the Yiddish stage.

And in this is the great merit of Leah Kompaneyets, and in this is great praise for her. ... It was a life of traipsing from town to town. Wherever authorized, Not Done, Without a home. In addition, strenuous work -- sewing for yourself and the other's clothes, preparing for the play, theatre props, sets, and indeed, the ticket sales, and don't even stand by the door control. All this involves child education. All of this involves child-rearing. Be a woman, a mass. And there was always a mass, both for our own and for us, then young actors. In addition, she had a definite grace, which can rarely be found among women on stage, a strong affection for everyone who had a country land and a love.

I was a small boy when I saw her for the first time. She played a role of a Jewish princess in one of Goldfaden's musical dramas. With what grace and what position. It bore her likeness! And a few years later, until I became a member of the troupe. Actually I received the first meal and the first bed in her house. Later, with her own hands, she even gave me a costume.

You are helping a young actor, give courage, literally to admire. Very often she used to stand behind the curtains and instill courage, help with a phrase, suffice it to say if you need to say a bunch of bold words, and actually teach it, as much as you know how.

Very much of the theatre family of the current generation will recall episodes of her theatrical career, of her courageous actions in times of trouble, her love for the performer and the theatre. Here is one episode: We were in a city in Vitebsk Gubernia. We arrive therein, as did many itinerant troupes in that time, without being granted permission, because the new governor Has long been publishing not to allow Yiddish theater. The police chief, Like many officials in ancient Czarist Russia, Has driven from itself, The request of Aba Kompaneyets and some of the city's Jewish representatives did not help. The troupe sat, hungry to bits. Aba Kompaneyets tried to find happiness somewhere else, and she, Leah, with three small children, comforted us; something's wrong with that. And sometimes in a day, when we were all sitting in her little room, Leah came in and pulled up the police chief, a wide, broad-shouldered, non-Jew, with a big red beard, dragged him along, with these words: "If you are hungry, look at the people here. See, actors, see how they look. They are all culturally young people, who want to play theatre, home-grown children. Would you allow it?"

We were all embittered, he meant: This is what he is sending out of town, and what it would mean for many of us along the way, over prison, because many were not passports in order. Suddenly we saw how the officials feel tears in their eyes, and he gave a roar: "You are a courageous woman. If you knew me, an old anti-Semite, made weeping. You will play our theatre with us. I have the Governor in dr'erd. You will play! "

  • Lazar Freed -- Leah kompaneyets, "Teater," Paris, N' ?






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 6, page 5327.

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