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Guide to the Records of the Yidisher Artistn Farayn (Yiddish Actors' Union) 1908-1940 RG 26

Arranged by Solomon Krystal, 1984. Translated and edited by Rivka Schiller in 2006 with the assistance of a grant from the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation. Additional processing by Sarah Ponichtera in 2013 as part of the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative, made possible by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
15 West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
Email: archives@yivo.cjh.org
URL: http://www.yivo.org

Copyright 2013 YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

Electronic finding aid was encoded in EAD 2002 by Sarah Ponichtera in March 2013. Customized in ARCHON in 2013.  Description is in English.

Collection Overview

Title: Guide to the Records of the Yidisher Artistn Farayn (Yiddish Actors' Union) 1908-1940 RG 26

ID: RG 26 FA

Extent: 16.25 Linear Feet

Arrangement: The series are arranged by type of material, namely administrative materials, correspondence, or membership files.

Languages: Yiddish, Polish, German, Russian, Hebrew, English


The Yidisher Artistn Farayn , or Yiddish Actors’ Union, advocated for actors’ economic interests while striving to create a professionally run, artistically ambitious, Yiddish theatrical scene in Warsaw. From 1919-1938, its influence gradually increased until it included the majority of actors working in Poland, and collaborated with the most significant Polish Yiddish cultural figures and institutions, including E. R. Kaminska, YIVO, Literarishe Bleter , and the Landrat , or National Council of Class Trade Unions ( Krajowa Rada Klasowych Związków Zawodowych ). This collection contains records of annual conventions, Executive Committee meetings, correspondence with actors and theaters from Poland and around the world, and membership files on almost 600 actors.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

This collection contains administrative materials detailing institutional functions and decision-making processes, correspondence, and membership files, each separated into its own series.

Series I , Administrative Records, contains very early notes on the initial formation of the YAF, as well as the bylaws of the union (both the original handwritten version and a sample of the subsequent print versions, in Yiddish and Polish). Series I also contains records of the annual conventions. There are particularly complete records of conventions 3-15 (1921-1932). Series I contains the minutes of the meetings of the Executive Committee, from 1922-1933, and records of the communal court. There are few financial records, although there are records of the YAF’s drive to collect funds to build a new theater building.

Series II , Correspondence, is divided into subseries that reflect the YAF’s own filing system. Correspondence is separated according to the location of the correspondent, which correlates with the primary subject matter of each group of correspondence. Executive Committee correspondence, dealing with administrative and charitable matters, forms Subseries 1 . Subseries 2 consists of correspondence with international theatrical organizations, either groups that toured Poland, or groups that Polish actors worked for abroad. Subseries 3 contains correspondence with theatrical groups in Poland, organized by the name of each Polish city where the group was located. Correspondence with Polish government organizations as well as non-governmental organizations falls into Subseries 4 . Subseries 5 contains correspondence with permanently established theaters in Poland, organized by the name of the theater. Subseries 6 consists of correspondence with touring acting troupes, organized by the name of their correspondent. This filing system represents the way that the YAF established intellectual control over their activities, which attempted to encompass all theatrical work in Poland.

Series III contains the YAF’s membership files, arranged by member’s name. Many of these files contain membership booklets that include a picture, and the person’s basic biographical information. If the member took the exam held by the YAF in order to qualify for membership, records of the exam are included in their file. Some files also contain correspondence between the member and the YAF, often pertaining to questions or problems they encountered in their dealings with the organization.

Series IV consists of unarranged YAF materials. These materials, though they were originally produced by the YAF, like the rest of the collection, do not possess the same inherent order, and seem to have been assembled over a period of time from a variety of sources. Some of the correspondence is addressed to Zalman Reyzen, and the materials on performances and actors relate to those located in Vilna more than other cities, so YIVO may have had a hand in collecting these materials at some point during the prewar period. Special permission to work with these materials must be obtained from the YIVO Archivist.

Historical Note

The Yidisher Artistn Farayn (Yiddish Actors’ Union), also known as the Zwiazek Artystow Scen Zydowskich (ZASZ), located in Warsaw, Poland, was founded in 1919, and existed until the beginning of WWII (September 1939). Its primary purpose was to represent the interests of actors in their financial negotiations with directors of theaters and theatrical troupes. However, its role went beyond that, as it involved itself in politics, supporting greater autonomy for Polish Jews, and in cultural life, as it attempted to support the development of a professional, artistically ambitious Polish Jewish theater. In fact these goals were connected: demonstrating the advancement of Jewish culture was thought to buttress Jewish claims for greater political freedom.

Several attempts were made to establish an actors’ union in the 1910s in different cities in Poland, beginning in 1915 in Lodz. The German occupation of Poland during and after WWI provided Polish Jews, and the Yiddish theater in particular, with unprecedented freedom. Whereas under the Russia Czar, permits to perform Yiddish plays were rarely granted and frequently revoked, the German occupation authorities, eager to undermine Russification, allowed ethnic minorities including Jews to freely participate in cultural life. Following WWI, it took some years for refugees who had fled to return to Warsaw, but when a critical mass of actors and activists was reached, in 1919, the Yidisher Artistn Farayn (henceforth referred to as YAF) took shape.

In the early years of its existence, the YAF struggled to exert influence over the energetic but chaotic blossoming of the Yiddish theatrical scene in Poland. New theatrical companies would be established and then disappear, and rifts emerged particularly between actors affiliated with permanent theaters and those that toured the provinces, sometimes only for a single season. They also ironically struggled with the greater freedoms allowed Yiddish theaters and actors: if they called a strike, there was no reason directors could not simply hire actors unaffiliated with the union, and many did exactly that, limiting the YAF’s ability to create meaningful change.

In 1925, the YAF affiliated itself with the Landrat , or the National Council of Class Trade Unions ( Krajowa Rada Klasowych Związków Zawodowych ). This unified them with unions in other professions, broadening their ability to enforce internal discipline and amplifying their voice on the Polish political stage.

The YAF conducted extensive activities aside from bargaining with directors and political activism. As part of its general financial support of retired, ill, and unemployed actors, it provided a stipend to actors who wished to send their children to school. In 1925, they decided to limit this stipend to those who sent their children to Yiddish-language schools, thus buttressing Yiddish education in Poland. They also published their own journals ( Yidish teater and Yidishe bine , among others) and amassed one of the most impressive libraries among the Warsaw trade unions. They held lectures on the history of Yiddish theater, and became involved in education, training young actors and providing certification for experienced actors. Its membership grew to include over 300 (324 in 1938), and accounted for the vast majority of Yiddish actors in Poland at the outbreak of WWII.


Mordechai V. Bernstein, “Di organizatsye fun di yidishe artistn,” in Yidisher teater in Eyrope tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes , vol. 1, Poyln, ed. Itsik Manger, Yonas Turkov (Jonas Turkow), and Moyshe Perenson, pp. 339–436 (New York, 1968)

Marek Web, “Organizacja i samopomoc: Z historii ruchu zawodowego aktorów żydowskich w Polsce,” Pamiętnik Teatralny 41.1–4 [161–164] (1992): 135–174, special issue on Yiddish theater in Poland until 1939.

Web, Marek. "Yiddish Actors Union." YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe 8 November 2010. 22 March 2013 http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Yiddish_Actors_Union.

Subject/Index Terms

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions: Permission to use the collection must be obtained from the YIVO Archivist.

Use Restrictions:

Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained from the YIVO Archives. For more information, contact:

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

email: archives@yivo.cjh.org

Acquisition Method: These records were among the Jewish collection looted by the Einsatzstab Rosenberg in Vilna under the Nazis and brought to Germany in 1942. Placed after the war in the U.S. military Offenbach Archival Depot, these documents were returned to the YIVO in New York in 1947.

Related Materials:

Additional materials from the Yidisher Artistn Farayn can be found in the Central State Archives (Vilnius). The YAF gave their records to YIVO in 1935; however materials continued to be created as well as found over the following years, and these records found their way into the Lithuanian Central State Archives. Photocopies of these materials can be found at YIVO; the originals are located in Vilnius.

There were significant contacts between the Yidisher Artistn Farayn and the Hebrew Actors' Union (RG 1843), which was based in New York. Although there was no formal assocation between the two organizations, many individuals participated in both, and the organizations were aware of one another, alternately supporting one another in their aims and coming into conflict.

Preferred Citation: Published citations should take the following form:Identification of item, date (if known); Records of the Yidisher Artistn Farayn; RG 26; box number; folder number; YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

Series 1: Series I: Administrative Records, 1919-1940,
Series 2: Series II: Correspondence, 1913-1938,
Series 3: Series III: Membership Records, 1910-1939,
Series 4: Series IV: Unprocessed Materials, 1908-1938,

Series IV: Unprocessed Materials
Arrangement: Folders labeled with an a contain the original folder that contained the materials in the folder with the corresponding number. For example, the materials in folder 1000 were originally located in the folder located in folder 1000a.
Folders: 41 folders
Box 36
Folder 1000: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1000a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1001: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1001a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1002: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1002a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1003: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1003a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1004: Unprocessed Materials
undated, 1929
Folder 1004a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1005: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1005a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1006: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1006a: Unprocessed Materials
Box 37
Folder 1007: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1007a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1008: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1009: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1010: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1011: Unprocessed Materials
undated, 1923-1930
Folder 1012: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1012a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1013: Unprocessed Materials
Box 38
Folder 1014: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1015: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1016: Unprocessed Materials
undated, 1932
Folder 1016a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1017: Unprocessed Materials
Removed from RG 29
Folder 1018: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1018a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1019: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1019a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1020: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1021: Unprocessed Materials
Box 39
Folder 1022: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1022a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1023: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1023a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1024: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1024a: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1025: Unprocessed Materials
Folder 1025a: Unprocessed Materials

Browse by Series:

Series 1: Series I: Administrative Records, 1919-1940,
Series 2: Series II: Correspondence, 1913-1938,
Series 3: Series III: Membership Records, 1910-1939,
Series 4: Series IV: Unprocessed Materials, 1908-1938,
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