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May 27, 1994 - Image 59

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-05-27

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taped to the Soviet Union, was
promptly arrested and sent to a
camp in Siberia. From there, he
was sent to Kazakhstan, where
he performed at the theater in
Dzhambul. After his return to
Poland in 1946, he settled in
Wroclaw and acted in Yiddish
amateur circles before beginning
work in 1950 as an assistant to
such renowned theater directors
as Wiercinski, Chorzyca and
Jakub Rotbaum. He went on to
become art director of the theater
in Opole, director of the Pow-
szechny Theatre in Wroclaw,
then director of the Wspolczesny,
the most prestigious theater in
In 1968, Mr. Szurmiej was dis-
missed from his post, following
an anti-Semitic campaign, and
he began working with the State

there are, but how many actors.
All our actors study Yiddish for
three years and understand what
they are saying and singing and
they can read it and write it."
Mr. Szurmiej admits there is
a difference between those who
learn the culture and those born
into it. But he says the pre-war
days — when there were 15 Yid-
dish theaters with a potential au-
di.ace of 3.5 million Yiddish-
speaking Jews — cannot be
brought back. Instead, he is
optimistic about the fact that
young Poles wish to come and
study at his studio.
"After all, they have the Polish
theater school," he said. "They
don't have to come here. But they
do so because they are fascinated
with Jewish culture."
The truth may be a little less


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Jewish Theatre on a full- Members of the idealistic. Interested in
Jewish Theatre's Jewish culture they may
time basis.
be, but many of the ac-
Mr. Szurmiej is ada- actors' studio.
tors in the studio are
mant that the Yiddish
there simply because
theater had remained his
first love and he had never they failed to get into Polish
drama school and the State Jew-
deserted it.
"I have always been proud to ish Theatre was their last option.
be a Jew and a Yiddishist. I never As one of the company actors,
changed my name or pretended who is Jewish and has been there
to be a Pole. I was born with this for more than 20 years, explains,
language and grew up reading "The one big advantage of our
studio is that they may even get
to appear in something on stage
once a year, whereas in Polish
drama school they just learn the-
ory and do silly exercises all the
time. If they could get into a Pol-
ish drama school now, they'd all
jump at the chance."

In 1970 the company
moved into its
current premises in
Grzybowski Square.

Sholem Aleichem, Peretz, Anski
and Hirschbejn and since child-
hood, I have fought for Yiddish
One way Mr. Szurmiej has
been keeping up the fight is by
concentrating more on musicals.
He also established in 1973 an
actors' studio and a mime school.
But he becomes defensive when
asked how many of the current
members of the State Jewish
Theatre are actually Jews.
"To me, this question smacks
of nationalism," he says. "One
should not ask how many Jews

he Ester Rachel Kaminska
State Jewish Theatre ex-
ists today because of the fi-
nancial backing it received
from the former Communist gov-
ernments and the funding it con-
tinues to receive from the
post-Communist governments.
"Of course, we were a shield for
the Communist government,"
Mr. Szurmiej says, "and we knew
there was a large anti-Semitic
element but we fought against
the anti-Semites by keeping
going and showing our rich
vibrant culture."
DI VELT page 60

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