"I am a union member ..."

An Introduction


The Professional Yiddish Actors Union in Poland (PYAFP), or in Polish, the Związek Artystów Scen Żydowskich (ZASŻ), was established in November 1919. It was founded by a number of actors and directors who hoped to assist Yiddish actors find employment, and also tried to help theatres, which often lacked the means to sustain themselves. The union lasted for approximately twenty years, until 1939 and the Second World War, when their premises at 2 Leszno Street in Warsaw was turned into a soup kitchen, in order to feed those actors who were in need.

Not only did the union serve to help the actors gain employment and a proper salary, they also worked as negotiators with theatre owners over contracts, wages, etc. The union also strove to elevate the quality of Yiddish theatre productions, and they also worked to minimize the staging of shund plays.

The leadership of the PYAFP changed frequently, often due to conflicts within the organization. There were many different presidents, e.g. Mendel Elkin, Isaac Nozyk, Jacob Kelter, Shmuel Landau, David Lederman and Mordechai Mazo. The union secretaries were, in part: Eliezer Gorelow, Reuven Marsalow, Avraham Moshe Shtokfeder and Zishe Kac.

In 1925 the union joined the National Council of Class Trade Unions.

By the time of the late 1930s most actors and actresses who played in Poland were members of the PYAFP, although by this time, nearly twenty percent of its members no longer lived in Poland, but had made other countries their home.


This is your opportunity to go back nearly a hundred years, to visit virtually the city of Warsaw, Poland, to gain a sense of what it might have been like to be an actor or actress and to play in the Yiddish theatre. You will see much, e.g. photographs of more than 160 actors and actresses, as well as their union membership cards. You will be able to see what documents were given to aspirants, or candidates, for them to fill out as part of their application process.

What kind of questions, both professional and personal, were asked? What information was required of the aspirant by the union, in order to be considered for membership? Often times, affidavits were sent to the union, in support of an actor who wished to join.

You can also read several newspaper articles, e.g. about a small theatre that once played Yiddish theatre on ulica Smocza. You will also learn, in part, the actions of the union, how it auditioned aspirants who wished to become members. From reports from the Hebrew Actors Union manager Reuben Guskin, who visited Warsaw in the early thirties, you will get an idea of the state of Yiddish theatre was in Warsaw at that time.

You will also be able to see some of the stationary and forms the union used during its existence.

Ah to be on an imaginary carpet ride, to journey back to another time and learn about a fascinating chapter in Jewish cultural history!

The Museum wishes to acknowledge the generosity of YIVO, the Institute for Jewish Research, for its generous cooperation in this educational exhibition about the Yiddish theatre in Poland and the Professional Yiddish Actors Union found therein.


To best navigate this exhibition, use the links at the bottom of each web page, to proceed either forward to the next page, or back to the previous page, or you may choose to navigate by using the contents page, which follows this page.

Here now are some examples of membership cards that were used in the union's early days ...



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courtesy of YIVO.

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