The Ester Rachel and Ida Kaminska Jewish Theater was created in 1950 as a result of the merger of two theatrical groups: the Lower Silesia Jewish Theatre in Wrocław and the Jewish Theatre in Łódź. Years followed, and the theatre operated in both cities with guest performances around Poland. In 1955, upon Ida Kamińska's initiative, it was moved to Warsaw, to a building at 13 Królewska Street that today no longer exists. Since 1970, the Theatre has been operating in the new building at Grzybowski Square. In 1968, a large group of actors, including the director and the artistic head of the theatre, Ida Kamińska, left Poland as the result of the March campaigns and events. For one year, the theatre was led by Juliusz Berger, who was the acting director. 1969 to 2014, the General and Artistic Director of the Jewish Theatre was Szymon Szurmiej. In 2015, the position of the Theatre's Director was taken by Gołda Tencer.
At the end of 2016, the Theatre lost its permanent location at 12/16 Grzybowski Square and was forced to move to a temporary location at 35 Senatorska St. Ever since the shows are presented mostly in the Command of Warsaw Garrison Club at 141a Niepodległości Street and as guest performances in other theatres, such as Nowy Teatr, Teatr Polski or ATM.
Since the very beginning, the Theatre contemplated and interlaced three repertoire notes. The first one was classical literature and Yiddish theatre, hence playwrights such as Ibraham Goldfaden, Jakub Gordin, Sholem Aleichem, I. L. Peretz, S. Ansky, Peretz Hirshbein or Shalom Ash. The second trend includes plays from beyond Yiddish literature canon but engaged in Jewish-related subjects, written by, among others, Arthur Miller, Isaak Babel or Ilya Ehrenburg. Whereas, the third current focuses on variety shows and cabaret.
The Ester Rachel and Ida Kaminska Jewish Theater in Warsaw is the only Jewish Theatre in Poland and one of the two permanent theatres in Europe staging shows in Yiddish. As of July 2012, in line with the Charter, the Theatre is also responsible for the Yiddish Culture Center and its operations.
ESTER RACHEL KAMIŃSKA (1870-1925)
She has been known as the “mother of Yiddish theatre.” A daughter of the grower from Porozów, as a young woman, Ester moved to Warsaw, where she worked in the cigarettes and hat factories just to debut on stage in 1982. Initially, her performances were limited to operettas and comedies. After several years, she became famous as the leading actress in the Jewish plays but also in the classical repertoire, such as “Norah” by Henry Ibsen, “The Lady of Camellias” by Alexander Dumas, “Theresa Raquin” by Emil Zola. Most of her career, Ester Rachel performed in theatres run by her husband, Abraham Isaak Kamiński. In 1913, she started her own theatre group, “Ester Rachel and Ida Kamińskie.” She performed in the USA, London, Paris, Moscow and played in Yiddish films: “Mirele Efros,” “Der Unbekanter,” “Di Sztifmuter,” “Tkijes kaf.” She was buried in the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw, at Okopowa Street.
IDA KAMIŃSKA (1899-1980)
Debuted on stage when she was 6 years old. At first, she performed mostly in operettas. In the time between the WW1 and WW2, she headed Warsaw's Jewish Artistic Theatre and Drama Ensemble and went on several tours around Europe. Ida managed to survive the war because she fled to the Soviet Union. After coming back to Poland in 1946, she was engaged in coordinating two Jewish theatres founded after the war in Wrocław and Łódź. Soon after, she was appointed the director of the Jewish Theatre that was created after the merger of both groups and she moved to Warsaw. In 1968, a consequence of antisemitic campaign, she decided to leave Poland and move to the United States where she tried to open a Jewish theatre in New York, however, to no avail. She died in New York. Her roles are mostly dramatic. Though she also created some grotesque, satirical and comedy performances. She will always be remembered for her roles in “Mother Courage and Her Children” by Bertold Brecht, “Trees die standing” by Alessandro Casona, “Merele Efros” by Jakub Gordin, “Meir Ezofowicz” based on Eliza Orzeszkowa, “Baruch from Amsterdam” by Chaim Sloves, “Glikl Hameln Demands Justice” by Max Bauman. It is estimated that Ida performed in 150 roles. She was not only an actress but also the head of theatre, translator of plays, director and teacher.
SZYMON SZURMIEJ (1923-2014)
Actor, director, author of numerous stage scripts, well-known activist of Polish and international Jewish organizations. He was born on 18 June 1923 in Łuck in Volhynia. The German-Russian war found him sent to the labor camp and after three years, he was further deported to Jambyl. During his exile, he made his first attempts on the stage studying in the Actor's Studio in the theatre in Almaty and performing on the stage of the very theatre. After coming back to Poland in 1946, Szymon cooperated with Teatr Polski in Wrocław (1952-1955) as an assistant to Wilam Horzyca, actor and director. Next, he took over artistic leadership in Teatr Ziemi Opolskiej (1955-1956) and Dolnośląski Teatr Powszechny in Wrocław (1956-1962). As a director, he worked for Teatr Rozmaitosci in Wrocław and the National Jewish Theatre in Warsaw. On 1 September 1969, he was appointed the director of the National Jewish Theatre and remained the director until the day of his death, i.e. 16 July 2014.
His artistic output includes nearly the whole classical Jewish collection. He directed more than 50 stage shows, including: “God, Man and Devil,” “Among Collapsing Walls,” “The Dybbuk,” “Night in the Old Market,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Stars on the Roof,” “Gold Seekers,” “Wandering Stars,” “...and miracle happened,” “Between Night and Day,” “Live Not Die!,” “Tradition,” “Bonjour Monsieur Chagall.” On the Jewish Theatre's stage the audience knew him as an excellent, characteristic actor, who was able to skillfully combine dramatic expression with a sense of humor. His favorite roles include Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, Hocmach in “Wondering Stars” by Sholem Aleichem, Tzaddik in “The Dybbuk” by S. Ansky, Mendel Krzyk in Isaak Babel’s “Sunset.”
He also appeared in many Polish and foreign movies, such as “Austeria” and “Death of a President” (directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz), TV series “Janosik” (directed by Jerzy Passendorfer), “My War, My Love” (directed by Janusz Nasfeter) and the then very famous American TV show “The Winds of War” (directed by Dan Curtis).
He was a devoted member and activist of Polish and international Jewish organizations. Many of his efforts were dedicated to the good relations between Poland and all countries of Europe and the world. His dedication was recognized with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. As an artist and social activist, he was awarded with the highest distinctions, such as Order of Polonia Restituta Third Class, Krzyż Komandorski, the Commander's Cross (1993), National Order of the Legion of Honor (France, 2001), Order of Polonia Restituta First Class, Krzyż Wielki, the Grand Cross (2003), Golden Medal Gloria Artis (2005).