Museum of the Yiddish Theatre

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The Yiddish Art Theatre
49th Street, West of Broadway, New York, NY
The production opened on February 9, 1937.

by Albert Gantzer


This review was written by Ab. Cahan and appeared in the Yiddish Forward newspaper on February 12, 1937. Here is its translation:

Maurice Schwartz is staging a new play in his current theatre (49th Street Theatre, west of Broadway). This is a drama that takes place in some of the most prominent moments of the great Jewish tragedy in Hitler's Germany. It is actually not a drama, but a melodrama. This is how the play is presented from the beginning to the end. In a melodramatic form we see in her, however, the great unhappiness that befell the Jewish population of Germany since the dark and bloody, medieval regime that spread throughout Germany.

When one sits in the theatre, following these events that take place in this play, the heart is so overwhelmed by pain and a sense of helplessness that you almost forget that it is a melodrama. The great, terrible historical drama of which Jews are the special victims unravels in your consciousness.

All three acts of the play occur in the house of Doctor Karl Leist, a surgeon with a great name, who is descended from Jews and has a Christian wife.

He alone has been baptized. His father, who is a successful manufacturer with a great name, which he had created mainly through his undertakings and accomplishments is also baptized. His father, however, was a Jew and is to die as a Jew.

Dr. Leist has a boy who is sixteen years old. He is called Hans. The boy has no idea that his great-grandfather was a Jew. He thinks that his family is completely Christian, that they are all "Aryan." Once, seated in a streetcar, he sees that an elderly Jewish woman is coming in and cannot find a seat. He stands up and steps away from his seat. One of the Germans exclaims with contempt: "For a dirty Jew he gives up his place."

Hans doesn't answer him, but soon a German calls out:

"He is not an Aryan either! His great-grandfather was a Jew!"

Hans then gives himself permission to give a strong slap to this German, because he has insulted him. There is a disturbance, a great tumult, and a scuffle. Hans gets out of the car like a mixed-up erson, as if he had been struck by thunder. What does it mean that his great-grandfather was a Jew? What is this nonsense?

He does not rest until he learns the truth. His father, who is a noble man and has the best feelings for the Jews, tells him everything. He speaks with him openly. He explains to him everything from the point of view of every decent person in Germany in relation to the new plague, and his mother speaks to him, also with deep anguish and with expressions of supreme respect for the Jewish people.

The tragedy unfolds in silence. Gradually, however, it takes on other forms. The story of what happened in the car reaches the newspapers, and the Jewish rebellion of the family gets a lot of lumpy Nazi publicity. Hans refuses to go to college. For his father and for his grandfather, the situation became increasingly difficult. The Nazis make it impossible to Dr. Leist to continue with his profession.

One of Dr. Leist's dearest friends is an Aryan with the name of Rudolf Strebel, a writer and a researcher -- a director of scientific experiments. Every time he comes to Berlin where the Leists live, he often visits their home.

Years back he was in love with the current wife of Dr. Leist. She, however, was in love with Leist and remained faithful to him.

Now that the tragedy is over for her family, and for her dear child, Hans, it has becomes impossible to build a career because he is not an Aryan, and in her mind she starts brainstorming wild thoughts: she will agree with Strebel that Hans is his child. Then Hans will already be Aryan.

Several things like this happen quite often in Hitler's Germany.  Mrs. Leist will also need such a means to "save" her child's future.

Strebel refuses to participate in the conscription. But she stands by him. She threatens to prove his role with the love letter that he had written to her, and not having enough character, he gives her what she wants, he suffers greatly from it, for the story was entirely straightforward, and besides, his heart was filled with love for Jews and with hatred for Hitlerism.

Then Leist's wife herself has regrets. She has a guilty conscience, and she declares that it is a lie, and that her husband and all the Jews are dearer to her than anything in the world. Dr. Leist doubts the truth of her current assertion that Hans is his child, which he penetrates with love and fidelity to the martyred people.

In a confrontation with the Nazis, Strebel angrily exclaims that a Jew has no less rights in the Germany of Hitler.

And Hans also shows up doing things, attacking Nazis. Shortly after, Strebel and Hans are abducted by the Gestapo (Hitler's Secret Police).

The main roles are played by Maurice Schwartz, as Dr. Leist; Berta Gerstin, as his wife; Wolf Goldfaden, as Dr. Strebel; Morris Silberkasten, as Dr. Leist's father; Eddie Friedlander, as Hans; Anna Teitelbaum, as the maid in Leist's house. The role of the maid is more or less important here, because this maid is forced to leave her job because she receives unpleasant letters as to why she is serving  Jews. And the scene where she explains why to her bosses is one of the interesting scenes.

Schwartz plays well, but there are some features that are specific to the circumstances and the characters associated with the role. Exactly with the same kind of speech, with the same demeanor and with the same "makeup" with which he would be able to play various other roles.

Berta Gerstin, as the Aryan wife of Doctor Leist, is satisfactory. Silberkasten, as the sympathetic honest businessman who says he "baptized himself and does not know why," and who in his heart is a warm Jew, and with common sense a thoughtful, progressive, wise man, excelled in his makeup, and in general played his role very well. [Wolf] Goldfaden was alright.

The younger Friedlander, as Hans, made an impression with the restraint and sincerity of his acting. He touched the hearts of the audience with a genuine echo of the tragedy that the role embodies.

I wanted to write more, but time did not allow it.





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