Lives in the Yiddish Theatre



This was the name of a group of Broder Singers (itinerant singers from Galicia and Romania, precursors of the Yiddish theatre) and folk singers. They used to wander throughout Austro-Hungary, playing primarily in Vienna and Budapest. The most popular of the group were: Jacob and Pepi Litmann, Leopold and Sara Kaner, Sholem Podzamce, Yonah Reizman, Herman, Moshe, Saltshe and Pepi Vaynberg, Philip and Sally Weisenfreund, Sam Ludwik, Chana Shtrudler, Steiner and his wife, Mendele Rothman, the brothers and wife Klug.

They performed in taverns or gardens. These groups were comprised of two, three, up to as many as eight persons (men and women) -- dependent on local conditions and also upon a few additional talented colleagues, and whatever kind of folksingers who might accidentally pass through. Whether or not this person could be hired depended on the "company." This matter relied a great deal upon old friendships and was very informal.

During the first World War, prior to the Russian invasion of Galicia, the Vienna "Yiddish stage" had been composed mainly of veteran members of the "Pol'nishe," and they absorbed the entire Lemberg theatre troupe that had escaped from Vienna. Whatever they earned was divided among themselves.

At first the repertoire of the "Pol'nishe" was the same as all the other folk singers: folk and humorous improvised music, often with "costumed' wedding entertainment and comedies (short acts). Later when they started to play in larger theatres (at the "Stempenyu" in Vienna and Wertheim's variety shows in Budapest), they began to also present "kestelach" (short precise pieces), and shortened plays that took over half or more of the performance time. Since, by and large, not every audience understood their Yiddish, they would substitute the Hebrew and Slavic words with German, sometimes with Hungarian. They did this, at first, in their solo numbers and later in their "kestelach." Over time they also began to introduce into their repertoire foreign-language performances. Quite independent of local circumstances: in Vienna--German; in Bukovina--German and Polish; Hungarian in Bohemia--Czech, etc. In the same manner they would often hire special foreign-language singers and duos (for example, in Pepi Littman's traveling variety troupe.) In those days, in the course of a two-hour performance, they would weave together Yiddish and foreign-language musical numbers and finish with a "one-act" play.

This troupe would travel all over the Austro-Hungary [region] without missing a town (even those with a miniscule Jewish population). Wherever there was a military garrison, the officers were the most enthusiastic attendants. They traveled as far as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Turkey. Some even went as far as Egypt. The "Pol'nishe" even created schools using their methodology. "The Budapester"--a group of German-Hungarian variety players, mostly Jews, would entertain their audiences with "little Yiddish material" (speaking in a German-Jewish-Hungarian dialect), and with real Yiddish stories and jokes (for more details, see "trifles" or "shmontzes.")

They also discovered several old-time "Pol'nishe" in their group (like Mendele Rotman--under the alias of Rota.) The most popular troupe was the Viennese "Budapester," which was under the leadership of "leading man" Eisenbach, who had once performed in a large hall on Tauber Street, in the same neighborhood as "Stempenyu," which belonged to "Pol'nishe."

Sh. E. from Jacob Mestel.

  • "Lexicon of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. 1, pp. 216-220; Vol. 2, pp. 1054-1057; Vol. 3, pp. 1602-1606.

  • Jacob Mestel-- "Unzer teater," pp. 13-15, 22, 23, 43, 46, 49, 51-54.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 3,  page 1640.

Translation by Paul Azaroff and Steven Lasky.

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