Published: 5 months ago Model: Antonia Sainz

My mother's grandfather, Wilhem (Schmerl Wolf) Heller, was postmaster in Cracow. It was unusual for a Jew to work in such a position in Poland before the war, and my grandmother made mentioned of this in particular. He had come to Cracow to study law. His folks came from a wealthy family in Tarnopol with many Rabbi's, but he was assimilated and lived in different social circles. He died about 2 years before the second world war. His wife, Anna (Hanna) born Frommer, perished in Cracow during the war. Their daughter Hela, a famous literary translator in pre-war Poland, survived concentration camps and later married and died as Mrs. Helen Antonia Atlas in New York in 1978. Anna and Wilhelm also had a son, Dr. Tadeusz Heller, a gynaecologist who perished in the war. Dr. Heller's wife Irene and his daughter born Ewa Heller, my mother, survived the war with many hardships. Eva, my mother now lives in Israel, and she has two sons and two grandchildren. Of the Heller family in Tarnopol we know that my grandfather had a cousin, also called Tadeusz a communist living in Berlin. Pecularly, his wife, who was Christian, was called Eva and his daughter Irena. Shortly before the war, this Heller traveled to Soviet Russia, and was promptly shot, or at least disappeared in a purge.

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Dear Ms. Levitan,
In the hope that this letter reaches you, I am very interested in collecting material about the Theater in Vilna.
Not about theaters in general, but rather the experience of the audience . To make myself clearer. I am trying to collect material relating to the day to day life of the ordinary folk in Vilna, their experiences in every possible field , including entertainment.
Thus I stumbled on your page of photos relating to the Theater. I am aqauinted with the other photographic material you published, including a photo of my grandfather, but I am hunting for the most basic descriptions of the humdrum daily life , eating, hunger, beatings, schooling and whatnot.
Yours sincerely
Shimon Joffe
Karmiel.
04-9968635
For myself, during those days, I moved to Vilna and had a job there. I was also a member in the dramatic club Hazamir, which means the Nightingale. In this club, many well-known authors were members, amongst them Numberg who was the head of the club and the writer Anakhi was the secretary. S. Nigal would read his essays, and Peretz Hirshbein would rehearse with us his plays. And Shalom Ash would read to us many times his manuscripts before publishing them.
One summer, when I came home from vacation, all the young people, my friends kept bugging me that I, and only I, would be the man to do it, meaning that I should be the director and I should produce a play to benefit the library that needed to be enlarged. So everyone gathered together and I suggested that we should perform a play by Peretz Hirshbein since I was very familiar with all the characters of this play, and since we already worked with Hirshbein and he instructed us on how to perform it. To my surprise, my friends were not agreeable to my suggestion. The one who was most against it was Nashkaleh Tsipa's, meaning Nathan the son of Tsipa. He was my childhood friend, the same age as me, and he gave me his reasons in very clear messages that a play by Yakov Gordin would be much better understood and be more suitable for the audience that came from the community of Kurenets. An argument ensued but Nashkaleh won and we performed the play by Gordin…
The short of it was that the town became quite excited by the theater and actors were chosen, roles were assigned. We leased the big barn that belonged to Yuda Zusia's Alperovich. We cleaned it diligently and with much excitement and devotion we worked on the play. From a nearby forest we brought branches of fir trees and pine trees and put them on the walls, an on top of the barn's dirt we put down yellow sand. We went to every house and asked to borrow benches and this became a fancy theater. It was fancy and very decorated. Such high style decorations were not known before in Kurenets, and our hearts were filled with wonders and excitement. Now our town was not an out-of-the-way backwoods shtetl. At this point we were becoming more and more residents of the big enlightened world. We even built a stage from wood and a little booth for the soplio [someone to whisper lines to the actors if they forget them]. I am almost sure that during the original opening night of the theater in our town there was not one town resident who stayed home. Many sat inside the theater but even more of them were outside, at the entrance, or by the walls looking for a little crack or hole to peek in and see what a theater was like. The level of performance or the excellence of the play was not at all important at that moment. What mattered was that the actors did their jobs with honesty and dedication, and that evening turned out to be an important occasion in the life of the town…...


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Hi - My wife's great great grandparents lived in Vilna. The husband's surname was Markels. The husband, supposedly a cantor, died in Vilna, and the rest of the family immigrated in the 1890s. The wife's maiden name supposedly is something like Udelephsky, or Udelewsky. I can't find any surname like that. Any suggestions? Thanks.