Yiddish: A Tale of Survival

Yiddish: A Tale of Survival, is a documentary about the survival of Yiddish since the Holocaust. It focuses on three generations of Yiddish performers: Shmuel Atzmon, Bryna Wasserman and Milena Kartowski, and examines the state of Yiddish in the 21st century.

Yiddish was the main spoken and literary language of Northern European Jews from France to Russia for several hundred years. During the Holocaust a majority of the world’s Yiddish speakers were annihilated. As a result, the Yiddish culture – language, literature, and theater – was nearly destroyed leaving many wondering whether Yiddish had any future at all.

Twenty-five years ago, Shmuel Atzmon, a holocaust survivor, started a Yiddish Repertory theatre in Israel. He took young Hebrew speaking actors and taught them the Yiddish language, its music and culture. There is now a first rate Yiddish Repertory Theatre in Tel Aviv called Yiddishspiel.

Arriving in Canada from the Soviet Union, in 1950, with her husband and two young daughters, Dora Wasserman, succeeded in creating a Yiddish theater troupe made up of students and their parents, – many Holocaust survivors. Dora’s work was carried on by her daughter Bryna Wasserman, who recently presided over the fiftieth anniversary of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Troupe by initiating the first ever International Yiddish Theater Festival in Montreal.

Milena Kartowski, a twenty-three year old student of dance, jazz, and opera, from Paris, and a grand daughter of Holocaust survivors, has recently discovered the Yiddish language and its attendant culture. She has fallen in love with Yiddish theatre and song. Milena not only understands the essence of Yiddish culture but also the importance of preserving a culture that is on the verge of extinction.

The documentary was completed January 2013 and has been screened as follows.

Press Preview Screening McGill University, December 2012

IAYC conference in Pittsburgh, March 2013

It was screened on Mountain lakes PBS (NY state) starting on May 22, 2013

New York City International Film Festival, June 2013

Aleph Kallah conference, Rindge New Hampshire, July 2013

Montreal World Film Festival, September 2013

Haverford,  Yiddish Culture Festival, October 2013

DVD Launch, October 30th 2013, 6 -8 pm, L’escalier, 552 St.Catherine St. East, 2nd floor, Montreal


I was interviewed by Thom Hallock, news anchor and producer for Mountain Lakes Journal. It was a thoughtful interview about the history of Yiddish in Montreal and worldwide since the Holocaust and about the documentary, Yiddish: a tale of survival.
CBC All in a weekend, 10 min. radio interview– with Abigail Hirsch, August 31, 2013.
Comments from contributors to the IndieGoGo campaign for Yiddish: A tale of survival

Lila Pascal said:

Yiddish is “Mamme Loshen”. It is the first language I learned in a house where my mother and her two sisters showered endearments on me and adoringly called me “Leahle”. It was the language of the songs they sang. It was the language of the literary group that sometimes convened at our house and included the Yiddish poet Ida Mazen Yiddish for me, carries echoes of longing and love and a richness beyond mere words.  Thank you, Abigail Hirsch, for breathing new life into this ‘jargon’ that has for so long nourished my soul. I often watch old Yiddish Theatre productions and films on DVD and I do so look forward to viewing your forthcoming documentary. Thank you for giving me the chance to support this worthy undertaking.

Jeffrey Sultanof said: “Yiddish is part of my very soul, part of my blood. My father spoke it fluently, and it was always beautiful to hear. When I hear it, I think of my late father immediately. It cannot die, and it refuses to die.

Wonderful project-Zol zayn mit glick
A very interesting topic that is most worthwhile to keep a memory of in this day and age
My children have sung Yiddish under Zalmen Mlotek in New York, and our school in the states promoted Yiddishkeit every week through song and story … congratulations, Abigail, on this contribution to the world of Yiddish
My fondest memory of Yiddish is the many Sunday afternoons when my dad would read my sister and I stories in Yiddish

Judith Pinnolis said:

To Yiddish and music!

Thank you to everyone who has already helped support this film!

A hartzigen dank,

To schedule a screening:  contact Abigail Hirsch, askabigail@me.com



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