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Esther-Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum Collection

 Collection
Identifier: RG 8

Scope and Content Note

The collection comprises materials that were once part of the Esther-Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum, which was founded by Ida Kaminska and Zygmunt Turkow, in Warsaw, in 1926, in honor of Ida Kaminska's mother, the renowned Yiddish actress Esther Rachel Kaminska (1870-1925). In 1927, Ida Kaminska and Turkow donated the museum to the YIVO Institute in Vilna, which subsequently augmented it with further materials about Yiddish theater that it collected. The collection represents the portion of the museum that survived the Second World War and was returned to the new YIVO headquarters in New York, in 1947. It contains play manuscripts, programs, playbills, posters, photographs, correspondence, agreements, scrapbooks, clippings, printed ephemera, and memorabilia relating to Yiddish theater in the early twentieth century, especially the interwar period. Also included are items of printed ephemera related to Yiddish film, Hebrew theater, and a broad range of Jewish performers, including cantors, singers and dancers. Geographically, the materials originated predominantly in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe, and, to a lesser extent, the United States, especially New York City, with smaller numbers of items from Western Europe and other regions around the world.

In the postwar period, the Yiddish actor and director Jonas Turkow, who worked at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York in the late 1950s to mid 1960s, partially processed the collection. In particular, he inventoried the play manuscripts, and cataloged many of the programs and playbills at the item level, preparing handwritten descriptions on index cards. Series I comprises the portion of the collection (a little more than one third of it) that Turkow organized and arranged in a systematic way. The remaining materials (Series II to V) were left mostly unprocessed, without any systematic arrangement. During processing for the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project (2015-2022) all of the materials were examined and newly arranged, incorporating and refining any existing groupings and sequences.

Series I, Performances of Yiddish Theater and Music: Plays, Programs, and Playbills, contains over 200 play manuscripts, as well as some fragments and actors' role books, representing approximately 120 authors, including M. Gershoy, Joseph Lateiner, Isidore Zolatarevsky, Jacob Gordin, L. Boymvol, B. Gorin, Boris Thomashefsky, N. Rakow, and S. Libin; over 500 theater programs; and approximately 2,700 playbills and fliers. Also included are approximately 1,300 oversize posters.

Series II, Theater Personalities, contains programs, fliers, and manuscript materials. This series includes significant groupings of personal papers, ephemera, and clippings related to Herz Grossbard, David Herman, Joseph Winogradoff, Rudolf Zaslavsky, Zygmunt Turkow, Jonas Turkow, Moyshe Lipman, Ida Kaminska, and Esther Rachel Kaminska. Also included are theater programs and scattered manuscript materials pertaining to some 200 additional performers.

Series III, Theater and Concert Performances, Geographical, contains theater materials, including programs, playbills, correspondence, agreements, fliers, and clippings, organized according to geographic locality, and often under headings for specific troupes. The localities include European countries, with Poland by far the best represented; the Soviet Union (as well as a few materials from the pre-World War I Russian Empire); Palestine (Land of Israel); South America, especially Argentina and Brazil; the United States, especially New York City; and various other regions (Australia, Canada, China, Cuba, and South Africa). The theater companies best represented are the Varshever Yidisher Kunst-Teater (Warsaw Yiddish Art Theater), founded by Zygmunt Turkow and Ida Kaminska, in Warsaw; the Vilna Troupe; the Moscow State Yiddish Theater (known by its Russian acronym "GOSET"); and Maurice Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theatre, of New York. A wide variety of other professional as well as amateur theater groups are represented with smaller amounts of material.

Series IV contains fragmentary records of the Yidisher Artistn Fareyn (Yiddish Actors' Union), which was founded in 1919 and headquartered in Warsaw. (Most of the surviving records of the Yiddish Actors' Union are found in another YIVO collection, RG 26.)

Series V contains photographs, a large portion of which are organized according to individual performer name. Additional photographs depict groups and theater productions, and some remain unidentified.

Dates

  • 1894-1942
  • Majority of material found within 1900-1939

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is predominantly in Yiddish, with some German, Russian, English, Polish, and Hebrew, as well as scattered items in or using French, Romanian, Belarusian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian, Czech, Finnish, Ukrainian, Dutch, Danish, and Arabic.

Access Restrictions

The collection has been digitized and is available online without restrictions. The physical collection is closed.

Use Restrictions

The images, documents, film footage, audio materials, and texts displayed in any portion of this web site may be copyrighted. Permission to use this web site is given on condition that the user agrees to follow U.S. copyright laws. The user agrees that she or he assumes liability for any copyright violations resulting from unauthorized use of items appearing on this web site and to hold YIVO harmless from any action involving copyright infringement. It is the responsibility of the user to carry out a due diligence search under U.S. copyright laws to determine the copyright status of items displayed on this web site.

Historical Note

The Esther Rachel Kaminska Theather Museum was founded in 1926 by Ida Kaminska and her husband Zygmunt Turkow, in honor of Ida Kaminska's mother, the renowned actress Esther Rachel Kaminska (1870-1925), who was widely revered as the "mother of Yiddish theater." The museum opened on 25 January, upon the shloshim, or conclusion of the thirty-day mourning period, following the death of Esther Rachel Kaminska, on 27 December 1925, in the room where she had died, in her apartment at 11 Oboźna Street, in Warsaw. The exhibition initially assembled by Kaminska's daughter and son-in-law included photographs, programs, playbills, posters, albums, and letters documenting Esther Rachel Kaminska's career on the stage, as well as the history of the Yiddish theater generally. The materials were drawn from the papers and memorabilia held by her family, supplemented with items that Zygmunt Turkow had received as donations or loans from fellow actors.1 Among the items on display were costumes that Kaminska had worn for her famous performances in Jacob Gordin's plays "Mirele Efros" and "Der umbakanter" (The Stranger).2

As Ida Kaminska and Zygmunt Turkow continued to receive donations of materials related to Yiddish theater, the collection grew, and in 1927 they donated the museum to the recently founded YIVO Institute in Vilna (Vilnius, Lithuania), which during the interwar period was part of the Second Polish Republic and known as Wilno. At the time that YIVO held its first conference, in October 1929, the Esther-Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum was reported to comprise over 1,300 cataloged items, of which 400 were exhibited, and the rest kept in the museum's archive.3 The most significant groupings of materials stemmed from donations of the Yidisher Artistn Fareyn (Yiddish Actors' Union), headquartered in Warsaw; theater director Nahum Lipovski; and the Rappel family. Smaller amounts of materials had been received from Iser Bezman, Isaac Perkoff, K. Ebel, Z. Zylbercweig, A. Kolodny, and H. Torczyner, among others.3 Subsequently, YIVO volunteer zamlers, or collectors, gathered further materials related to Yiddish theater that were then added to the Esther-Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum.4 After YIVO moved into its own building at 18 Wiwulski Street, in Vilna, at the beginning of 1933, the Theater Museum had its own exhibition space and storage area, and a dedicated staff.5 The director of the Theater Museum at YIVO Vilna, from fall 1928 until the demise of the institute in 1941, was Uma Olkenicki.6

Following the Second World War, rescued materials identified as once belonging to the Esther-Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum in YIVO Vilna were brought together again at the YIVO Institute in New York as Record Group 8 (RG 8). In the late 1950s to mid 1960s, these materials were sorted and organized by Jonas Turkow (1898-1988), who also inventoried many of the programs and playbills at the item level, producing a catalog of index cards handwritten in Yiddish. An actor and director in Yiddish theater, Jonas Turkow – who was a younger brother of Zygmunt Turkow – had immigrated to the United States in 1947, and began to work in the YIVO archives in 1958.7 In 1966 he immigrated to Israel; he died in Tel Aviv.

Footnotes

  1. Shapiro, p. 512.
  2. Shapiro, p. 517.
  3. "Barikht fun Teater-Muzey," p. 74.
  4. Web, p. 173.
  5. Quint.
  6. Shapiro, p. 518; Web, p. 181.
  7. "Turkow," Encyclopaedia Judaica.
References

"Barikht fun Teater-Muzey afn nomen fun Ester-Rokhl Kaminski," in: Barikht fun der konferents fun dem Yidishn Visnshaftlekhn Institut opgehaltn in Vilne fun 24tn bizn 27tn Oktober 1929. Vilna: Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut, 1930. pp. 74-79.

Quint, Alyssa. “Visual Artists and Yiddish Avant-garde Theatre in Poland.” Digital Yiddish Theatre Project. June 2018. yiddishstage.org

Shapiro, Fanny. "Der teater-muzey afn nomen fun Ester-Rokhl Kaminiski baym YIVO." In: Arkhiv far der geshikhte fun Yidishn teater un drame. Vol. I. Ed. J. Schatzky. Ṿilna; New York: Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut, 1930. pp. 512-518.

"Turkow." Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2nd edition. New York: Macmillan Reference USA/Thomson Gale, 2007. Vol. 20, p. 203, section "Jonas Turkow."

Web, Marek. "Tsu der geshikhte funem yivo-arkhiv." YIVO Bleter. Vol. XLVI (1980). pp. 168-191.

Extent

47.25 Linear Feet

Abstract

The collection contains play manuscripts, programs, playbills, posters, photographs, correspondence, agreements, scrapbooks, clippings, printed ephemera, and memorabilia relating to Yiddish theater in the early twentieth century, especially the interwar period. Also included are items of printed ephemera related to Yiddish film, Hebrew theater, and a broad range of Jewish performers, including cantors, singers and dancers. Geographically, the materials originated predominantly in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe, and, to a lesser extent, the United States, especially New York City, with smaller numbers of items from Western Europe and other regions around the world. Among the theater personalities represented in the collection with significant amounts of material are Herz Grossbard, David Herman, Joseph Winogradoff, Rudolf Zaslavsky, Zygmunt Turkow, Jonas Turkow, Moyshe Lipman, Ida Kaminska, and Esther Rachel Kaminska. The theater groups best represented include the Varshever Yidisher kunst-teater (Warsaw Yiddish Art Theater), founded by Zygmunt Turkow and Ida Kaminska; the Vilna Troupe; the Moscow State Yiddish Theater (known by its Russian acronym "GOSET"); and Maurice Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theatre, of New York. A wide variety of other professional as well as amateur theater groups are represented with smaller amounts of material.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged in the following series:
  1. Performances of Yiddish Theater and Music: Plays, Programs, Playbills, and Posters
  2. Theater Personalities
  3. Theater and Concert Performances, Geographical
  4. Records of the Yidisher Artistn-Farayn in Poyln (Yiddish Actors' Union)
  5. Photographs

Other Finding Aid

The original handwritten inventory (in Yiddish) of the play manuscripts (Subseries I.1), produced at the YIVO Institute in New York, sometime in the post-World War II period, is kept on file at YIVO. Also on file is the card catalog of index cards on which Jonas Turkow recorded, by hand, in Yiddish, item-level descriptions of most of the programs, playbills, and posters found in the collection, during his work at the YIVO Institute in New York in the late 1950s to mid 1960s. The card catalog encompasses all of the programs and playbills in Series I; and most of the programs found throughout Series II and III.

Related Material

The Esther-Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum Archive contains some records of the Yidisher Artistn Fareyn, headquartered in Warsaw, which regularly contributed materials to the Theater Museum during the time that YIVO was based in Vilna. The main portion of the Fareyn's records are otherwise found in another YIVO collection, Records of the Yidisher Artistn Farayn (Yiddish Actors' Union) (RG 26).

A small grouping of documents that originally belonged to the Esther-Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum Archive can be found in Series III ("Theater Documents") of the Abraham Sutzkever-Szmerke Kaczerginski Historical Collection (RG 223.2). Also, some materials related to items in Subseries I.1 (Play Manuscripts) of the current collection have been documented and digitized as part of Records of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in the Lithuanian Central State Archives (RG 8000), Series III, VIII, and XVIII.

The following collections held at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research contain Yiddish theater materials from roughly the same time period as those found in the Esther-Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum Archive:
  1. Music (Vilna Archives), RG 7 – manuscripts of musical works for the Yiddish theater
  2. Plays, RG 114 – manuscripts for the Yiddish theater
  3. Sholem Perlmutter Papers, RG 289 – a wide variety of Yiddish theater materials gathered by Perlmutter, dating from the 1880s to the 1950s
In addition, YIVO holds collections of personal papers of some of the theater personalities found in the present collection, including: Alexander Asro and Sonia Alomis (RG 729), Joseph Buloff and Luba Cadison (RG 1146), Misha Fishzon and Vera Zaslavska (RG 203), Jacob Gordin (RG 530), Chayele Grober (RG 590), David Herman (RG 209), Leon Kobrin (RG 376), Molly Picon (RG 738), Jacob Mestel (RG 280), Moshe Schorr (RG 499), Mark Schweid (RG 357), Anshel Shor and Dora Weissman (RG 689), Jacob Waislitz (RG 633), and Michael Weichert (RG 532).

Processing Information

During processing for the Edward Blank Vilna Online Collections project, the collection received conservation treatment and was re-foldered into acid-free archival folders. Some previously unprocessed play manuscripts, fragments, and actors' role books belonging to the Esther-Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum were integrated into Series I, Subseries 1 (Play Manuscripts), as discussed in the Scope and Content note for that subseries. The arrangement of the collection is based on initial processing carried out by Jonas Turkow at the YIVO Institute in New York, in the late 1950s to mid 1960s, as discussed in the collection-level Scope and Content note.
Title
Guide to the Esther Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum Collection, 1894-1942 (bulk 1900-1939)
Status
In Progress
Author
Originally processed by Jonas Turkow in the late 1950s to mid 1960s. Materials further processed, described, and prepared for digitization, and finding aid encoded by Violet Lutz in 2021.
Date
©2019
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English, with some renderings of names and titles also in Yiddish.
Sponsor
Processed, conserved and digitized as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project (2015-2022). Additional work funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the M.K.S. Charitable Remainder Unitrust.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

Contact:
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New York NY 10011 United States