Thursday 28 May 2015

Biographies of Weinberg's parents

The following biographies are taken from the six-volume book 'Leksikon fun Yidishn Teater', edited by Zalmen Zylbercweig, published between 1931 and 1969. There is an online project to translate the whole work into English, which can be found at the following website

The biographies make for fascinating reading, though they should be read with the following warning. Zylbercweig's book is well-known for its inaccuracies, reflecting the difficult circumstances with which it was written. The Yivo Encyclopedia page on Zylbercweig has the following caveat about the book: 

Zylbercweig’s encyclopedia, a monument to his extraordinary dedication, reflects both his scholarly limitations and the difficult conditions of his work. The volumes have been insufficiently edited and contain errors and imprecise data. Even more problematic is the matter of sources. Although he provides bibliographies of varying degrees of accuracy at the end of each article, much of Zylbercweig’s information is based on his subjects’ personal communications, often about their own careers. The longer articles typically consist of lengthy citations from insufficiently identified sources that can be traced, if at all, only with great effort. However, the Leksikon is also a vast source of social and cultural documentation.
Michael C. Steinlauf, writting for the Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe - link

Bearing that in mind, I here reproduce both biographies in their English translation, with a few of my own notes afterwards.


Shmuel Vaynberg
Born 1882 in Kishinev, Bessarabia, to deeply religious Hasidic parents.  His father was a bookkeeper for a prosperous firm and so burdened with work that he had no time to help raise his children.  At age seven Shmuel chanced to get hold of a violin, and “picked out” a melody with one finger.  One year later, he was playing his instrument quite nicely by an open window when a passing gypsy musician overheard him.  This man tried to persuade his parents to allow him to study music, but to no avail.  Vaynberg writes in his autobiography:

My father was not overwhelmed by this idea.  I nonetheless began to study a bit with this musician, and he inspired in me great hope.  Yet however great my talent may have been, my antipathy toward study was even greater.  A rare phenomenon:  as soon the teacher played a lesson, I’d grasp it immediately.  In this way, I fooled him for a while, until one day he caught me out and ended our lessons, admonishing me with these words: “With such talent, with such ten fingers, but without the desire to learn, you might just as well dig a grave and bury yourself, because you’ll only squander your life away.”  My father was determined to make a proper man of me, and sent me to work first at a haberdashers, and then in a different business, a printing plant.  I did not stick to any of these places.  So at age 17 I left home and began a life of wandering.

In 1899 Sabsey’s troupe came to Kishinev and performed without success it seems, since the show fizzled out and Sabsey then took me into his company.  Fortunately, I was a jack-of-all-trades:  violinist, conductor, choirmaster, actor, property man, prompter.  And for all that, I earned but fourteen kopecks a day—that’s how we lived.  After a bit of time with Sabsey, I conducted for Feldman, then returned to Sabsey, this time as conductor.  After that I went to Meyerson, then to Kompaneyets, then to Lipovski in Vilna, where I composed music to Boymvol’s Lebendik un lustik.  I then traveled for a couple years with Genfer.  In 1914, just before the war, I came to Lodz to conduct for Zandberg’s troupe.  In 1916, I came to the Theater “Central” in Warsaw, across from the newly-built “Skala” theater.  I wrote music for Yoshke Muzikant [by Osip Dimow], Di mume geyt, Redaktor katshke [by Hokhshtayn], 5 Sambatyen [programs by Y. Nozhik], Zlate di rebitsin [by Y. Nozhik], and on and on.
Vaynberg was married to the prima donna Sonia Vaynberg (Leksikon, Vol. 1 col. 683), from whom he was divorced.  Their son, Moyshe, is a famous composer in the Soviet Union, and the son-in-law of the murdered Yiddish artiste Shlomo Mikhoels.  The actor Zalmen Koleshnikov reports that during the Second World War, Vaynberg was the conductor of a cinema orchestra, and was murdered in Luninets [Belorussia].  However, according to the “Yizkor-List” of the Polish State Yiddish Theater, Vaynberg was murdered by the Nazis in Poland.
Sonya Vaynberg

She was born on 9 March 1888 in Odessa, Ukraine. 
She completed a four-class governmental school and learned in a pro-gymnasium. After school she began to train her voice, and in 1905 she performed in the troupe of Meyerson. 

Afterwards V. acted, as a prima donna, with Kompaneyets, later several years with Sabsey, a single year with Genfer, three months with Kaminski and Kompaneyets, later a year with Sabsey. She put on and directed together his Schwartzbard, and she acted several seasons with Genfer and with Fishzon.

Afterwards two years with Lipovski, three months with Zandberg in Lodz, a season with Julius Adler and H. Serotsky in Lodz, and then at the Warsaw Central Theatre with Tselmeyster.

V. was the wife of director and composer Shmuel Vaynberg.

After her divorce, she withdrew from the stage and performed only at certain times.
According to Jonas Turkow, she was found in the Lodz Ghetto, where she was killed by the Nazis.
 My own thoughts
Several factual inaccuracies betray the difficulties that Zylbercweig would have encountered when gathering material. For instance, there is the notion that Shmuel and Sonya Vaynberg had divorced some time before the war! Needless to say, there is no other mention of this in any other material around them, or in Weinberg's testimony about them. Furthermore, Weinberg reported that the family was living together when the Nazis invaded Warsaw. 
Another error is reported in Shmuel's entry, mentioning a confusion about his place of death. There is one other report dating from 1944 that places Shmuel and Sonya Vaynberg in Belorussia in 1943 - however, the extreme majority suggest that they had remained in Poland, relocating to Lodz.  
Shmuel's entry also contains the tantalising suggestion that he had provided an autobiography - though this is difficult to follow up - as noted in the Yivo quote above. 
Both biographies demonstrate the nature of post-holocaust testimony - often relying on second or even third-hand reports, rumours, and gossip about the whereabouts and the ultimate fates of individuals. However, the biographies certainly provide rich and interesting material for scholars on Weinberg, if only for the portrait of Sonya, and also as a rich illustration of their fruitful careers as professional performers. 
Links to the original article translations: 
Shmuel Vaynberg - here 
Sonya Vaynberg - here  

For further reading and listening, see my previous feature on the recordings made by Shmuel Vaynberg - here.

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