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Jacob Mestel Papers

Identifier: RG 280

Scope and Content Note

The Jacob Mestel Papers (1910-1958) are arranged in nine series, including correspondence, collected plays, Jacob Mestel's writings and translations, production and director's materials, miscellaneous theater materials, clippings, personal materials, Sarah Kindman-Mestel's papers, and photographs.

The papers reflect the diversified nature of Jacob Mestel's life in the theater as actor, director, stage manager, instructor, writer, translator, adapter and historian/researcher. The bulk of the materials date from the 1930s and 1940s and focus on Yiddish theater in New York. Of particular interest are the materials of the Artef Studio, the drama school of the Artef (Arbeter Teater Farband – Workers' Theater Association), which Jacob Mestel directed and helped found (folders 323-335). Virtually none of the materials, except for a few documents and translations, cover Mestel's early theater career in Vienna and Eastern Europe.

Because Mestel was involved in so many aspects of the Yiddish theater and because he collected such a quantity of theater materials, his papers offer an insight into the history and daily workings of the Yiddish theater, especially in New York. Noteworthy are Mestel's writings about theater (folders 236-268) and the series of theatrical production materials and director's notes (folders 323-350).

The papers contain Jacob Mestel's extensive collection of over 100 Yiddish play scripts in Series II. Most are plays originally written in Yiddish, although a few are translations into Yiddish from other languages. Many of the scripts contain director's notes. In addition, Series IV, which holds production and director's materials, contains notes on scripts found in Series II. Also in the papers is Jacob Mestel's collection of 301 photographs of Yiddish theater performances and personalities, mostly from New York in the 1930s-1950s (Series IX, also indexed in YIVO's Stagepix database).

Jacob Mestel's commitment to the Yiddish culture and art is manifest in the correspondence, which includes Kalman Marmor and Nachman Meisel, as well as theater personalities Jacob Ben-Ami and Osip Dimov of the United States and Osvei (Yeshue) Liubomirskii of Moscow, the Soviet Union. Jacob Mestel's organizational correspondents include many theater and Yiddish cultural groups around the world, including the Proletarisher Teater Kolektiv (Proletarian Theater Collective) in Montevideo (Uruguay), the Dramatishe Klub (Drama Club) in Złoczów (then Poland, now Zlochiv, Ukraine) and Di post (The Post) in Cracow (Kraków, Poland).

Because Jacob Mestel maintained regular contact with the European Jewish artistic community throughout his life, his later correspondence also provides a glimpse of activities and thinking about the arts in the Yiddish theater world after World War II. Of particular interest is Jacob Mestel's lengthy correspondence with director Michael Weichert of Warsaw (Poland), which includes some materials on Michael Weichert's arrest and imprisonment (later reversed) on the grounds of Nazi collaboration.


  • 1910-1958


Language of Materials

The collection is in Yiddish, English, German, and Polish.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public. Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained in writing from the YIVO Archives.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information users should contact:

Chief Archivist, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011

Biographical Note

Jacob Mestel was born in Złoczów (then Galicia; now Zolochiv, Ukraine) on February 25, 1884. He attended kheyder (religious day school) and from age fourteen, the Teachers' Seminary in Lemberg (then Galicia; now L'viv, Ukraine). For a time he worked as a teacher and studied philosophy at the University of Lemberg. He later moved to Vienna and graduated from a military academy. In 1910, Mestel traveled with the Vienna Yiddish theater performing throughout Austria, Galicia, and in Germany.

During World War I, Jacob Mestel served as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army. He was wounded several times, awarded medals, and attained the rank of First Lieutenant. Upon his return to Vienna in 1918, Mestel studied directing and dramaturgy at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (Akademie für Musik und Darstellende Kunst) in Vienna. He helped organize Der Fraye Yidishe Folksbine (Freie Jüdische Volksbühne – The Free Jewish People's Theater) and the first Yiddish drama school in Vienna.

After the Habsburg Empire disintegrated in 1918, Jacob Mestel was forced to leave the Austrian Republic and emigrated to the United States in 1920. He was hired as an actor and director by the Philadelphia Arch Street Theater. Beginning in 1923, he acted and directed in Maurice Schwartz's Yiddish Art Theater and Jacob Ben-Ami's Folks Teater (People's Theater). He toured Europe, North America, and South America with these troupes.

In 1925, Jacob Mestel became the director of the Frayhayt Dramatishe Studio (Freedom Dramatic Studio), which later became the drama school of the Artef (Arbeter Teater Farband – Workers' Theater Association). For a few years, he devoted himself strictly to this institution.

Throughout the 1930s, Jacob Mestel continued to work with Maurice Schwartz and Jacob Ben-Ami, as well as with other theater companies, including the experimental Nit Gedayget! (Don't Worry!) in New York. He also acted, directed and adapted for Yiddish film and radio. Jacob Mestel acted on television The Goldbergs, (1952-1954) and on the English-language stage in Arnold Shulman's Hole in the Head (1957).

Jacob Mestel began his writing career in 1903 by publishing critical essays in Varhayt. Beginning in 1906 he published poems in the Lemberg togblat, Yidishe folkskalendar, and other European publications. In the United States, Jacob Mestel wrote theater criticism for New York Yiddish daily newspapers and was an editor of the Yidishe kultur (New York).

Jacob Mestel attained a measure of success as a poet and has been included in several poetry anthologies. His books of poems include Farkholemte shoen (Dreamy Hours), Lemberg, 1909; A libes lid (A Love Song), Cracow (Kraków, Poland), 1911; Vita khayzed, Cracow, 1913; Dimyoynes (Imaginings), Vienna, 1921; and Soldatn un payatsn lider (Soldier and Clown Poems), Warsaw, 1928. He stopped writing poetry in the 1920s.

Jacob Mestel's prose works include: Milkhome notitsn fun a yidishn ofitsir (War Notes of a Jewish Military Officer), 2 vols., Warsaw, 1924, 1927; Lukretsyas toyt (Lucretia's Death), Warsaw, 1936; Undzer teater (Our Theater), YKUF, New York, 1943; 70 yor teater repertuar (70 Years of Theater Repertoire), YKUF, New York, 1954; Literatur un teater (Literature and Theater), YKUF, New York, 1962.

As a historian of Yiddish theater, Jacob Mestel contributed to YIVO bleter (YIVO Pages) and Arkhiv tsu der geshikhte fun yidishn teater in amerike (Archive of the History of Yiddish Theater in America), both published in Vilna. Most notably, Jacob Mestel was co-editor with Zalmen Zylberzweig of the first three volumes of the Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Lexicon of the Yiddish Theater), New York, 1931, Warsaw, 1934. He also translated many important American and European theatrical works into Yiddish, among them Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

Jacob Mestel was married to Sarah Kindman-Mestel (1901-1974), an actress and poet, whose collection of personal and professional materials is included in this collection.

Jacob Mestel died in New York in 1958.


14.6 Linear Feet


The collection of Jacob Mestel consists of the general, professional and personal correspondence of Jacob Mestel, manuscripts of plays by other authors, manuscripts of poetry, essays and plays by Jacob Mestel, translations of plays into Yiddish, production material, clippings, theater programs, personal documents, and theater photographs.


The papers are arranged in nine series according to type of document, except for the personal materials of Jacob Mestel and the papers of Sarah Kindman-Mestel, which include a mixture of types. Within most series, the materials are arranged alphabetically according to the Yiddish alphabet.

  1. Series I: Correspondence, 1932-1957
  2. Series II: Collected Plays, 1930s-1950s
  3. Series III: Writings and Translations, 1915-1943
  4. Series IV: Production and Director's Materials, 1940-1941
  5. Series V: Miscellaneous Theater Materials, 1934-1945
  6. Series VI: Clippings, 1920-1957
  7. Series VII Personal Materials, 1910-1958
  8. Series VIII: The Papers of Sarah Kindman-Mestel, 1932-1957
  9. Series IX: Photographs, 1930s-1950s

Other Finding Aids

There are two other finding aids which were created after the collection was processed in 1982, and in 1983 respectively; one is in English, the other one in Yiddish.

Custodial History

The papers of Jacob Mestel were donated to YIVO by Jacob Mestel and his wife Sarah Kindman-Mestel. In 1952 Jacob Mestel gave YIVO materials consisting of correspondence and manuscripts. In 1967, Sarah Kindman-Mestel donated the remaining materials.

Processing Information

This finding aid was processed by Solomon Rabinowitz and Itzik Gottesman in 1982 with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In 2002 the finding aid was revised by Donna Gallers. The romanized spelling of Yiddish names has been corrected according to original documents found in the collection. The romanized spellings of the proper names were cross-checked with the YIVO Names Authority File, Library of Congress, and Encyclopedia Judaica. Other Yiddish names for which there was no reference for romanization have been transliterated according to the YIVO standard published in Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary by Uriel Weinreich in 1968. Yiddish titles of plays have also been transliterated according to the YIVO transliteration standard. Alternative spelling appears in the brackets.

Chana Mlotek and Fruma Mohrer proofread, verified, and corrected the final version of this finding aid.

Guide to the Papers of Jacob Mestel (1884-1958), 1910-1958 RG 280
Processed by Solomon Rabinowitz and Itzik Gottesman
© 2005
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from Jacob_Mestel.xml.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States