Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Markus Shneck

Born in 1876 in Rava-Ruska, Galicia, according to Gershom Bader. In his younger years Sh. brought up his income by selling bagels.

In Bader's "Calendar (Journal)," he remarked that he performed for twenty-two years, which means that Sh. began acting in 1890, at the age of fourteen.

It is also reported in the same journal that he was a character-comedian. The actor Ben-Zion Palapade that he [Sh.] joined him in his wanderings. They jointly decided to travel throughout the province of Galicia. Palapade goes on to report:

"From the onset we had a thriving business, but there was a problem with the accounts. We were only two partners. The rest of the troupe members were paid a wage. All the other financial obligations could be paid in five minutes. Despite this I had to sit with Sh. and his wife and go through the accounts all night long, and they would leave shaking their heads as though to say that they doubted the correctness of the accounts.

This lack of trust by my partner and his wife caused me a great deal of heartache. But what else could I have done? He was illiterate and could neither write nor read. His wife could do no better than her husband. So how could I prove to them that the accounts were correct, and that I dealt with him honestly? And as if this was the only issue, he arrived at the performance inebriated. He drank more than water. He drank brandy, and it affected him, and as a result he argues with all the actors. No performance could start without a scandal that always fell upon me to settle. Seeing that I could no longer continue in this role, I suggested to Sh. that in as much as he accuses me of duplicity, I would like to end the partnership. I was prepared to pay him wages just like all the other actors. Sh. got excited by my proposal and immediately called out a sum.

Palapade left with the troupe to play in Kuty (Bukovina), but since he didn't have a government permit to play there, he decided to make an agreement with someone who had a permit for high-wire acrobats, organ plays and vaudeville bits. A district commissar passed through Kuty, and seeing the large posters with big Yiddish letters, he instructed his men to tear them down and forbid them to perform. Through bribery they managed with a police officer that he would look aside and allow a performance to take place. From there they traveled to another town, wanting to play using the same permit. However, here:

Sh. and his wife demonstrated their guilt in Kuty, exactly as if they had nothing to do with it. Instead, trying to involve the rest of us, they wanted to make up a story. They wanted a solution as to how we could save ourselves. However, the two of them packed up their belongings and went off to Vishnitz without even a farewell.

...Who could have known that Shl, who left us in such an ugly manner, would after seeing our subsequent success, tattletale on us to the authorities? Sh. found himself in Vishnitz, which was very near Kuty, and he discovered very quickly about our great success with our Saturday performance, and when we moved on to a new town and were preparing our next performance, and while I was sitting in my hotel room contemplating my situation, a policeman whom I already had dealings with, entered and showed me a paper that he had just received. In that paper it clearly stated that we are trying to fool the authorities; and that we possess merely a permit for acrobats and tight-wire performers. In fact we were performing plays in Yiddish... The policemen told me openly that someone had snitched on us. Understandably, I was frightened. Seeing how I sat as if paralyzed, the policeman tried to comfort me and to convince me that I had nothing to fear. Here in the town he said that he is the boss, and that he is not frightened in the least. 'You can play here in our theatre as much as your heart desires through my responsibility and duty. I will learn about your case by then you will already be far from here. We played in this town a lineup of plays with a not bad following. Sh. with his puffed-up cheeks must have seen that he had stupidly made a fool of himself.

Sh. died in Galicia.

Ben-Zion Palapade characterized him thus:

Shneck was a stereotypical comedian who always used cliche-ridden jokes that were avidly accepted by the average audience. It was a tragedy that one could never encounter him sober. Another thing regarding reading and writing, he had no interest. He never delved deeply into his roles in any play. He never invested himself into his characters. In connection to his making a toast over alcohol, his wife resembled him just like they were a pair of twins. Shneck was, nevertheless, much loved by the coarse theatre goers, who always comprised the vast majority of his followers. He was famous, really ramous, as an outstanding comedian. In all of Galicia he had many avid fans. It was sufficient for Shneck to appear on the stage with his two blown-up cheeks, and his large gray catlike eyes that the audience would break out in laughter. Everything he said was received by his fans as if it was a hilarious joke.

  • Benzion Palepade -- "Memoirs," Buenos Aires, 1946, pp. 251, 258-260.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 6, page 5146.

English translation by Paul Azaroff.

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