"Madame Kaminska, and what indeed
about you yourself? Why speak nothing about your acting, of your
world-successes, of your great talent? You're not a very old woman
yet, and mostly there aren't any old artists. There are good and
bad ones, and you are not just one of our good ones, but our greatest."
I reminded her how we used to go
together often to the German and Polish theatres, and the applause
in America, how the critics sang her praises, especially the
"Forward" critic, Ab. Cahan.
Her sister Rivka, who for years was
more her mother than sister, stood upside down and tears welled up
in her eyes ...
Her sister said: "Dear Rumshinsky, you
have taken away a stone from my heart. They (pointing at her
daughter) gave her a modern, urban art, a trick; that the old plays
are not adequate, and the old kind of playing theatre is not
adequate either ... And she, my sister Esther Rachel, my pride, my
entire hope, sat down and listened to their words ... Since her
husband Avraham-Yitzhak passed away, became a tel for her.
But all of them, their own, the young ..."
Esther Rachel Kaminska stood up and
cried out with the sound and pride of "Mirele Efros": "Rivka,
I remarked: "Madam Kaminska, she was
right ... after all, she was now going for a more expensive tenor from
'Mirele Efros.' "
Esther Rachel Kaminska smiled. We
remembered from the past and sang the duet of Abraham and Sarah from "The Sacrifice of Isaac."
I requested that Rebecca cook fish
with clams for Sunday as usual. When I said goodbye, I gave Rebecca
five American five-dollar bills. And she confided in me that when I
requested the fish with clams -- she explained where she would get
it ... but now there will be fish with clams, and she asked
me that I shouldn't say that I gave her money, because she has many
belnim. When I said goodbye to Esther Rachel Kaminska, she
said to me that it has already been many years that she has sung.
And she further said: "You are making me sing ...," and she began
singing my song from "Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs)," "Lib
Mikh Nokh Fil, Lib in der Shtil (Love Me Much More, Love me in
Silence?)." I answered: "Esther Rachel, why in silence? I'm not
ashamed ... Let everyone know that we once loved each other."
Rivka remarked, with folded hands, "I
am a witness, a living witness."
On Sunday, myself and Isidore
Edelstein came to eat the fish and clams that Rivka had cooked, which I had
longed for, although I was used to eating fish with a lot of pepper,
like my mother, may she rest in peace, used to cook, and Rivka used
to make fish a little sweet. But the clams, I longed for them the
entire time, and not so much for the clams as for the whole
atmosphere, when as a seventeen-year-old youngster Esther Rachel Kaminska brought over from Yekaterinoslav to
Lodz, and now here sits the not-so-long-ago queen of the Yiddish stage,
Esther Rachel Kaminska, a broken person, a person without courage,
and she trusts me that the Russian government before the war had
seized the theatre and turned it into a barracks. And although it is
already after the war, the return of the theatre cannot be won,
because it still lies in the hands of the military, and one needs to
have a lot of money. I asked her to inform me how much money would
The next morning she made a decision
about this, in whose hands lie the theatre. Isidore Edelstein,
myself and Madam Kaminska went off to a Polish restaurant. We waited
for a while, until a high-ranking official came in to greet us. He
told us that he was previously in the Russian army, because his
father is a Russian, and his mother a Pole. He explained that as the
Poles do not yet have their officers, polkovniks [military
rank], and generals, they called on the military officials of Polish
descent, who were in the Russian, French and German armies. The
majority were half-Polish, that is, only on one side.
He was a very interesting man. He was
more Russian than Polish. He told us that in the last days of the
Tsar, they arrested Leon Trotsky, and Trotsky was under his
supervision. He spoke of Trotsky with great respect. I asked him
what accounted for Trotsky's greatness, and he said: "In his
The polkovnik did not want to say
much, and the little that he did say was with great caution,
although we were seated in a special room.
When we got to the point and started
talking purposefully, that is, about giving back the theatre back to
Madam Kaminska, he said that it is unfortunate because they need to
have a huge sum of money. The polkovnik already had written a long
sheet of paper with numbers. Meanwhile, Esther Rachel Kaminska had
told me how bad she was materially and moral-wise ,and she added
that since I came for the couple of days, I had awakened in her the
former Esther Rachel Kaminska, and if she might be able to get the
theatre back, she would start again to play theatre as she once did.
I consoled her: She remained calm, we will get the money. If the sum
is great, I will put together a large performance in New York, as
soon as I will return. And if it is accessible, I will soon get
it. Meanwhile, Esther Rachel took a look at the long piece of paper
that he had written on. She gave a shrug and said: "I know what, we
need to have this to be Rothschild's fortune."
The polkovnik stood up and said to me
in Russian that if someone will provide the money, which he had
shown on the paper, he will provide this theatre to Madam Kaminska.
He said goodbye and left.
When Edelstein showed me the amount,
we both strongly laughed, because after the long calculation, we
thought it may be many thousands. The amount when converted to
American dollars amounted to one hundred and thirty dollars.
I immediately presented one hundred
dollars in American money. Isidore Edelstein gave her one hundred
dollars in "American Express checks." We well amused ourselves and
snapped off a healthy Yiddish. But our joy immediately was
The proprietor of the place, a Pole,
told us very politely that it was not his fault, but the guests, who
were mostly Polish soldiers, demanded that we leave the place. I
began to cook and scream a lot: "It's in America." The proprietor
said that then, I will convince you that there will be a major
scandal in the meantime, and he said further that the military is of
the opinion that we laughed at the Polish polkovnik when he left,
and they did not want to have Jews in the place.
When we were outdoors, I said to
Esther Rachel Kaminska that maybe there was a plan for her to come
with us to America and away from hell. She answered: "My friend, it
is too late for me. Beside playing grandmothers on the stage, I will
better play a grandmother for my grandchildren. I will already end
my life in this dark exile that calls itself Poland. I will very
soon go to my Avraham-Yitzhak, with whom I have gone through such a
rich life -- a life of suffering, striving, hope, glory, greatness,
riches. But now to begin anew? No, too late, too late."
We said goodbye and kissed each other
loudly, thinking that this was the last kiss we were giving each