Yiddish-language theater began in Eastern Europe in the mid-19th century and flourished until the second World War. The range of Yiddish theater encompassed all genres: naturalist drama, expressionist and modernist plays, operetta, musical theater, satiric revues, and lowbrow comedy.The Harvard Judaica Collection’s Yiddish Theater Collection is a rich assortment of primary sources documenting Yiddish Theater through a wide variety of materials.
In its heyday, you could find professional Yiddish theater companies throughout Eastern and Central Europe, in major cities like Berlin, London, Paris, Buenos Aires and New York City, and on tour through innumerable small towns. Yiddish actors, directors, designers and producers often crossed into theater work in other languages, making Yiddish theater a global conduit for theatrical ideas and techniques.
At the heart of the Harvard Yiddish Theater Collection are unique archival collections documenting the lives and works of some of the most renowned practitioners of Yiddish Theater:
- The Joseph Buloff Jewish Theater Archive documents 20th century Yiddish theater through the lives and works of legendary performers and married couple Joseph Buloff (1899-1985) and Luba Kadison Buloff (1906-2006).
- The Pesach'ke Burstein and Lillian Lux Yiddish Theater Archive traces the careers and lives of Pesach Burstein (1896-1986) and Lillian Lux (1918-2005), as well as their son Michael Burstyn (b. 1945), who performed separately and as a family in Europe, the United States, South America and Israel for most of the 20th century.
- The Seymour Rechtzeit Jewish Theater Collection contains papers, photographs and audio recordings of actors and singers Seymour Rechtzeit (1908-2002) and Miriam Kressyn (1910-1996). In addition to varied careers on the American Yiddish stage, Rechtzeit and Kressyn, who were husband and wife as well as artistic collaborators, were also prolific radio performers with long-running radio programs, such as The Forward Hour and Memories of the Yiddish Theater.
- The Leo Fuchs Yiddish Theater Archive follows the life and career of Leo Fuchs (1911-1994), the “Yiddish Fred Astaire.” Fuchs career spanned Yiddish theater, Yiddish film, Broadway theater and Hollywood movies (including The Frisco Kid).
- The Max Eisen Jewish Theater Collection provides insight into the business side of Yiddish theater in the United States. Max Eisen (1918-2009) worked as a theater press agent in New York from 1954-1996. Houghton Library has Eisen’s papers from his work for Broadway and off-Broadway productions; the Eisen Jewish Theater Collection features his work on behalf of Yiddish theater productions.
The Yiddish Theater collection also includes scripts, programs and video recordings from the Yidishpil theater in Israel, as well as materials from contemporary Yiddish theater companies in the United States. There are also thousands of audio recordings and musical scores of Yiddish theater music. Many ephemeral publications produced for Yiddish theater around the world—programs, advertisements, posters—have been digitized and can be seen in HOLLIS.
These primary sources are complemented by a comprehensive collection of scholarly books and articles examining the history and ongoing influence of the Yiddish theater.
Accessing These Materials
- These materials are all cataloged in HOLLIS. Most scripts and programs are individually cataloged in HOLLIS and can be searched individually by title and author.
- Digitized photographs, posters and ephemera from these archives can also be searched in HOLLIS or HOLLIS Images.
- Physical materials can be consulted in the Judaica Division office in Widener Library by appointment. Request access through HOLLIS Special Request, or email us.