Dzigan and Shumacher

Native of Łódź in Poland, Shimen (Szymon) Dzigan (1905-1980) and Yisroel Shumacher (Szumacher) (1908-1961), famous Yiddish comedy duo, were known worldwide before and after the 2nd world war.

Son of a taylor, Shimen Dzigan should have been a taylor like his father. But fate decided otherwise when the famous writer and poet Moyshe Broderzon noticed his gifts in improvising and parody during a banquet in 1927. He hires him then in the Ararat cabaret that he created in Łódź. One year later, Yisroel Shumacher joins the cabaret.

The two artists, influenced by the emerging Yiddish theatre, share the belief that, as Jews, they have to preserve the Yiddish language. Both are also seduced by the socialist ideas that travelled after the first world war. And their skits reflect those new ideas. Indeed, the Ararat troupe, and its energetic actors with excessive make-up and impressive costumes, doesn’t look like any other Yiddish theatre so far.

After working 6 years in Łódź, Dzigan and Shumacher settle in Warsaw. They play during one year as part of Di Yiddishe Bande troupe, and decide to re-establish Ararat troupe with some of the founding members of Łódź. Finally the two comedians choose to perform only as a duo: they create their own cabaret at the Nowości theatre of Warsaw in 1935.

In 1937, they perform in the Yiddish film Freylekhe Kabtsonim (Jolly Paupers) directed by Zygmunt Turkow.

When the nazis invade Poland, Dzigan and Shumacher flee to Białystok, occupied at the time by the Soviets. They continue their shows in Minsk, Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Kharkov and all Soviet cities where live a Yiddish speaking population. But when they try to leave the Soviet Union with the polish army of General Anders, they get arrested. They will spend 4 years in the labor camp Aktioubinsk where they will be able, after all, to perform their show, for Jewish people, but also for the banquets of the NKVD (Narodni Komissariat Vnoutrennikh Diel [interior ministry of the Soviet Union]). Released in 1946, arrested again in Lwów, they end up by reaching Warsaw in 1947.

In 1948, they perform in Undzere kinder (our children), one of the last films in Yiddish filmed in Poland, about the destruction of the European Jews, directed by Natan Gross.

In 1950, they decide to settle in the young state of Israel, where the demand for a Yiddish entertainment is very strong, and where many Jewish people through out the country know by heart their skits. But, following the desire of the time’s leaders to form a new Israeli society speaking Hebrew, almost all shows in Yiddish were forbidden, and despite their popularity, Dzigan and Shumacher’s shows do not make exception.
They decide therefore to emigrate to Buenos Aires in Argentina, where they create a new cabaret.

In 1958, when the law forbidding to perform in Yiddish is abolished in Israel, our two friends settle in Tel-Aviv and create their own theatre. But this will a last a short time, and the two comedians who started quarreling in the mid-1950’s will definitely split up in 1960.

One year after, Shumacher dies of sickness at the age of 53.

During twenty years, Dzigan will continue to perform on stage, and also on the Israeli television. He dies on April 14th 1980, the following day of a performance on stage.

The Yiddish Laurel and Hardy

The two comedians play very distinct characters. Dzigan was the nervous one, chatty, happy beggar and whining. Shumacher was more flegmatic and giving lessons. Commenting on the daily news, they mocked the antisemites, politics, but also themselves and the audience. They were sometimes compared to Laurel and Hardy, or to two Don Quixote sitting on a bench, one dreaming of Palestine, the other of Birobidjjan.

Dzigan and Shumacher remain the most famous Yiddish comedy duo throughout the world.

YIVO Encyclopedia
Beit Hatfutsot
Jewish Entertainers

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