Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Pepi Littman
(Pesha Kahane)


Born circa 1874 in Tarnopol, Eastern Galicia, to poor parents. In her youth, she was a maid in the home of the parents of the future actor Max Badin. Possessing a beautiful voice, she was lured by the Broder Singers, and she performed with them in bars and inns and migrated with them across Galicia and Romania, until she was introduced to conductor Yankel Littman, whom she married in Czernowitz.

Littman learned some of her little songs and couplets thoroughly, and used them to “wow the audience.” In a short time, her name was renowned and she was named head of the itinerant Yiddish vaudeville troupes.

L. often performed in German health spas, where her performances consisted of singing verses from “Moses Rejoiced” and “The Rabbi’s Havdala,” which she interpreted in an original (very often, two or three) manner. Her couplets were sung both by Jews and non-Jews. She was also very popular in Hungary with the non-Jewish theatre audience under the name, “The Peptsia.”

Shortly before the world war, L. arrived in Warsaw and performed in Julius Adler's adapted operetta Itsikl, [I] Want to Get Married [according to Adam Mesco’s The Bride’s Dream], with performances that caused great excitement with local theatre audiences. When the war broke out, she went to Russia. During the world war, L. performed in Odessa, where she was beloved by the Jewish people and also popular in the local literary circles. She was often a guest of David Frishman and Mendele Moykher Sforim, who was very fond of her little songs.

1917 -- L. performed in Iasi, and in the same year returned to Odessa, where she performed in the large theatre. After the Bolshevik Revolution, it was forbidden to perform her repertoire, but the ban was later abolished.

1928 -- L. returned to Poland, where she performed with great success. Soon thereafter she went to Vienna and performed there, and then in Karlsbad, Marienbad and returned to Poland, and then again to Vienna. Here, in great hardship, she became ill, and for a certain time was laid up in the Rothschild Hospital, and there on 13 September 1930 she passed away.

Her funeral was arranged by the Vienna Yiddish Artists Union, and the community provided a free burial plot.

Dr. M. Vaykhert characterizes her this way: Pepi Littman was not an “actress.” She seldom performed in a theatre, and if sometimes she did appear on a great stage, it was not by choice. Her own domain was not the theatre, but the concert hall or garden, not the “big stage” but the “intimate stage.” Disguised as a Hasid, in a velvet hat over sidelocks, around the round, full, woman's face, in a wide, unbuttoned coat, short pants, white socks and house slippers, with both hands under the sidelocks or on her hips, she used to pop out from behind the curtains with a song, and at that moment, the audience would light up as though struck by lightning and everyone – clerk and merchant, tailor and doctor, maid and lady – recognized the melody and sang the song with her. Pepi Littman had a mannish voice, deep and hoarse. But, anyone who heard her “Rejoice” could never forget it.

“Pepi Littman was not an actress”, she had no legitimacy from a professional organization and had no “acting schools,” no “degree,” but in the Yiddish theatre, she herself had more prestige than any two modern professional troupes put together. She created folk-humor and folk-sentiment from the source that Goldfaden and Grodner had used. She had a dramatist’s temperament, a performer’s blood, Yiddish fervor.

Sh. Hokhberg characterizes her thus: “Pepi Littman, with her cheerful acting style and her distinctive folk-style singing, striding on stage with her men’s trousers, with her Galician Hasidic cap, almost always called forth a peaceful mood in the Yiddish audience. Despite those who she said she had no education, in society she made an impression as an educated woman, thanks to the fact that essentially she spoke a universal language. Despite the fact that she was living the life of an artist, Pepi Littman had a religious disposition, as evidenced by the fact that she began to light Sabbath candles on Friday nights, avoided non-kosher food, and began to observe religious customs that applied to Jewish women.”

According to Jacob Mestel, who knew L. personally and often met with her traveling vaudeville troupe, L. was almost the only characteristically-Jewish “female singer in Hasidic trousers.” In prose-sketches, her short, stout figure appeared plump, even clumsy. But, when she moved around the stage as a “Hasid,” her deep contralto blazed through her every nerve. She stroked it gently, as though it was a cello, and with her “vulgar charm” she inspired the audience.

It’s a fact that L., and not her husband, was the director of her vaudeville troupe. She was also the first to hire foreign-language female singers for her ensemble, depending on local requirements: in Galicia and Bukovina—German and Polish, in Hungary—German and Hungarian, and so on, and with them, she often performed “abridged theatre-plays” (“Little Boxes”).

Sh. E. from Jacob Mestel.

  • Mikhael Vaykhert – “Pepi Littman dies”, Lodz Daily, Sept. 17, 1930.

  • Sh. Chius – “In Foreign Shrouds,” Our Times, Kishinev, Sept. 22, 1930.

  • Elhanan Tseytlin – “At the grave of Pepi Littman," Our Express, Warsaw, Oct. 10, 1930.

  • Sh. Dorfzon – “Famous Yiddish Actress Pepi Littman Dies in Vienna,” Forward, N.Y., Oct. 14, 1930.

  • Sh. Hochberg – “The Tragedy of Pepi Littman,” Lodz Daily, Oct. 6, 1930, Post, London, October 12, The Press, B.A., November 14, 1930.

  • Lina Lipman – A letter to the editor, Moment, Warsaw, Jan. 23, 1931.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 2, page 1054.

Translation courtesy of Beth Dwoskin.

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