Yiddish: A Tale of Survival

Yiddish: A Tale of Survival, is a documentary film 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 music. Milena understands the essence of Yiddish culture and the importance of preserving a culture that is on the verge of extinction.

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

  • Press Preview Screening at McGill University, December 2012
  • IAYC conference in Pittsburgh, March 2013
  • Screened on Mountain Lake PBS (New York), 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


CBC All in a weekend, 10 min. radio interview with Abigail Hirsch (August 31, 2013)

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