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January 23, 1981 - Image 64

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1981-01-23

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64 Friday, January 23, 1981


Rare Yiddish Films Distributed in West Germany
Illustrate Changes and Universality of Jewish Life

(Editor's note: The fol-
lowing article by Eva-
Elisabeth Fischer first
appeared in Sued-
deutsche Zeitung in No-
vember and was re-
printed by the German
Tribune in December. It
is re-printed by special
arrangement with Dr.
Josef Deutz, counsul
general of the German
Federal Republic in De-
The novels of Philip Roth,
and the writings and films
of Woody Allen are strongly
influenced and shaped by
the trials and tribulations
which their - Jewish
grandparents endured,
their melancholy and their
humor, their experiences
and their qualities.
The older generation of
East European Jewish ar-
tists such as the painter
Marc Chagall, photo-
grapher Roman Vishniac
and novelist Isaac Bashevis
Singer testify directly to a
culture and a language —
Yiddish — which were both
almost eradicated with chil-
ling perfection by Hitler
and his final solution.
This tradition only sur-
vives in songs and in some
Luckily, we have one
other important source on -
the life of the shtetl, the
East European Jewish
community; films in Yid-
dish produced for a
Yiddish-speaking public by
directors forced to emigrate
from Europe.
The cameras they used
were simple and shooting
often lasted -only two or
three days. But before this
weeks of hard work had
gone into rehearsals.
Some of the acting in
these films is exceptional.
The directors worked with
famous actors from the re-
nowned Jewish theater in
New York's Second Avenue
— stars such as the slyly
comical Molly Picon and the
expressive Maurice
Most of the films were
shot in the U.S. The work of
Joseph Green is an excep-
tion here. Green, an actor-
director from Lodz in Po-
land, brought his Vilna
troupe to the U.S. in 1924
but made a point of spend-
- ing several months in Po-
land every year to recapture
the authentic atmosphere of
the shtetl.
Another advantage of
shooting in Poland was that
the production costs were
About 30 of the 100 Yid-
dish films distributed by the
Joseph Seiden agency are
still extant and 20 of them

A scene from Joseph Green's "Purimspieler."
have been completely re- earning enough money to becomes a famous artist.
The banal stories of the
stored and preserved. They pay the ship passage for the
musical comedies are the
are owned by the American rest.
This meant that Jewish same as those of contempor-
Jewish Historical Society.
A selection of these films families were split up, just ary German film comedies
was shown at the Pompi- like the families of many but yet they are completely
dou Center in Paris, then foreign workers today.
Here it is not fun for fun's
In those days, the Jews in
in Berlin and the Frankfurt
Communal Cinema. They America lived like the sake but an escape from the
are now being screened in Puerto Ricans live there to- grinding poverty of every-
Munich. They are booked day: as the lowest class in day life, with humor and
self-irony enriching the
the social pyramid.
out till June.
Those left behind in mixture.
After Munich, they will
For example, we see a
be shown in Duisburg, Europe dream about how
Amsterdam, Austria, wonderful America must be father with a long white
Freiburg, Berlin, Zurich while their brothers and beard sitting weeping on his
fathers struggle to escape family's few possessions
and Cologne.
Despite restoration, the poverty by selling socks on piled in a wheelbarrow. The
Camera then pans mis-
sound and picture quality of the street, for instance.
This is well recounted in chievously to a goat beside
these films is still poor but
as historical documents Joan Micklin Silver's film, him with an equally long
these films are so valuable "Hester Street," made in beard.
Weddings and holidays
that these faults weigh 1974.
This poverty provided the belong in every Yiddish
These films can be di- impetus for another impor-
vided into two categories. tant motive — that of
On the one hand, tear- human solidarity and to-
jerking melodramas of the getherness. The immig-
The Tel Aviv evening
19th Century melodramatic rants shared their bread
tradition — soap opera tales with newcomers or gave newspaper Maariv tells two
with the appropriate musi- them a roof over their heads stories which reveal the
cal background, enriched if they needed it. The belief human side of Prime Minis-
with idyllic nature scenes as in a better life in America ter Menahem Begin: his
friendliness, humor, senti-
in "Ein Brivele der Mamen" remained unshaken.
"In America everything mentality, and political re-
and "Jidl mitn Fidl," both
works." This is a sentence partee. They are re-told
by Joseph Green.
Then there were film ver- from "Ein Brivele der Ma- here, translated and anno-
sions of books such as men." This film was made in tated by Louis Panush.
Late last summer, after
Sholom Aleichem's short 1938, a year before the
story collection, "Tevye der German invasion of Poland. the decisive vote in the
The film meant double Knesset on the "Jerusalem
Milchige," and Anski's mys-
and double hope for Law," Begin entered the
tical drama "Dybbuk" with
its deep roots in Hasidic those that saw the film, who members' cafeteria in a very
were still living in ghettoes, good mood. He came across
as poor but far more in the young and engaging
For many Jews of the
East European Diaspora danger than their parents spokesman of Mapam (the
the saying "Next Year in 20 years previously. (The Labor faction much left of
Jerusalem" came to mean action of the film takes Mapai, who probably voted
against the "Law"), Amnon
place in 1919.)
"Next Year in America."
Levi, sitting at one of the
America was the new
promised land but families happiness in America are tables-with his girl friend.
Begin asked him, "You
were usually too poor to presented as the rewards for
not married yet? You
emigrate all together; usu-
ally one member of the fam- Joseph Roth's novel "Hiob," are such a delightful couple.
ily went first, in the hope of where Menuchim Singer Why are you waiting?"
From the next table
came the voice of Knesse-
ter Shlomo Lorencz (a
leader of the ultra-
Orthodox Agudat Yis-
rael): "Begin, you act as if
you were God, blessed be
his name; (like Him) you
are a matchmaker."
Begin , replied, "You are
quite right. Many times I
succeed in making matches.

film. Images of ecstatic joy
in the beggars' dance, close
ups of the drunken faces of
Michael Waszynski's
film, "Dybbuk," stresses
that a rich girl must have a
rich groom.
It is a film version of the
old legend that the soul of a
dead sinner (the dybbuk)
enters a living person's body
to escape from the wicked
This film is the epitome of,
all the elements of the
Jewish film. The mystical
plot is enacted against a
background of natural
events and natural descrip-
tions, pious images from the
prayer room interchange
with boisterous wedding
Hasidic romanticism of
the 19th Century is cap-
tured in 20th Century ex-
pressionist images.
Piety and faith dominate
the lives of the Jews in the
ghettoes. Faith means the
preservation of the species,
the only protection against
a hostile environment. Re-
jection of the faith is re-
garded as a crime but not
just out of narrow-
mindedness — as when
Tevye in Schwartz's film
says his daughter is dead for
him when he hears she has
married a Christian.
Betrayal of the faith
meant betrayal of the only
possession and security of a
Tevye, like many of his
fellows, patiently accepts
his fate with a shrug of the
shoulders and a sacred say-
ing or bitter proverb — as
patient as the millions of

Jews who were transported
to the concentration camps.
Persecution was an every-
day experience for them, so
everyday that they did not
see it as meaning inevitable
The second generation of
immigrant Jews in the
United States is now leav-
ing the old traditions be-
Many have fought t
way out of the Lower EaSi,
Side and live in the com-
parative comfort of the
middle-class Bronx.
Edgar G. Ulmer describes
this process of Americaniza-
tion and assimilation in his
comedy "The American
Marriage Broker."
Hairstyles have changed,
wigs have been replaced by
permanent waves. Instead
of black smocks the Jews
wear elegant suits and. the
life of the Polish market
places now takes place in
plush apartments.
Yiddish is increasingly
infiltrated with American
English: they say "sure"
now instead of "emmes."
And these changes are of
course not just outward. The
strict morality has been re-
placed by a free one; faith is
no longer the be-all and
Material values have
come to the fore. The weal-
thier Jew adapts to the eco-
nomic laws of the United
States and, like film hero
Nathan Silver and his Insti-
tute for Human Relations,
founds trusts.
Attachment to the
mother and Menschlichkeit
remain — as Philip Roth's
novels and Woody Allen's
films prove.

Human Side of Menahem Begin

I am a good matchmaker.
But unlike the profession-
als, I have one rule: I do not
ask or take a fee."
Begin sat down next to
Knesseter Shlomo Lorencz
and told him this story. "As
you know I was hospitalized
with a heart condition .. .
"In the hospital, they
showed me, via a wonderful
machine that was imported
from the U.S., a photo of my
heart. It looked as if it were
alive'. I must say that my
heart is photogenic.
"I asked myself: What is a
heart after all? According to
this photo — just a pump.
And if it stops for a minute,
it is the end of man."
Knesseter Lorencz re-
plied good naturedly:
"When I visited you the
other day to offer my
congratulations on your
birthday, I brought for
you the 'Book of Faith
and Trust' by the Hazon
Ish (Abraham Isaiah
Karelitz, a Talmudic
scholar and author,
1878-1953). In it, he also
describes the action of
man's heart.
"You are entering- the age
of 68. In the Gematria ( the
numeral value of letters), 68
— samekh het — is equiv-

alent to the Hebrew word
"hayim — het, yod, yod,
mem — life. You are begin-
ning life. You are young."
Begin began to reminisce.
"When I was 25 years old, I
shouldered a heavy respon-
sibility. At the age of 31, I
was appointed the com-
mander of eEtzer (Irgun
Zevai Leumi, the National
Military Organization, arm
of the Revisioinist Move-
ment, 1937). Already then
everybody called me 'The
Old Man.'
"In those days I as
myself a question: W .'
will I look like at the age. of
50? Now that I am 67, I am
told (by you) that I am
young. Thank you."


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