Gimpel’s Jewish theatre in Lviv: was it permanent or travelling?

ID: 87

The Jewish theatre in Lviv is considered to be the first permanent Yiddish theatre in the world (Mestel, 1962, 37). In contrast to the street performances organized in the Iaşi Gardens by Abraham Goldfaden, ‘the father of the Yiddish theatre’, Jaakov Ber Gimpel had a legally fixed concert hall. However, taking into account frequent change of premises, lease of new halls and open air performances, there is a need to consider in more detail the issue of the Jewish theatre’s own premises and its permanence.

In 1889 Jaakov Ber Gimpel received for his theatre a concession to function in the Yiddish language (Weinstock, 50-lecie teatru… “Chwila”, 1939, N7200, 11). The troupe acted on wooden terraces at a tavern named Under the magpie and located on Zamkova street 13 for six years, prolonging the concession now and again (Weinstock, 50-lecie teatru… “Chwila”, 1939, N7200, 11). Though the place was rather distant from the central part of the city, it was, nevertheless, suitable for the Jewish theatre since Broder singers used to come and arrange their shows here as early as the 1870-80s (Bałaban, 1940, 1). Continuing the tradition to organize shows in wooden pavilions at taverns, Gimpel’s troupe counted on the public who had got used to this place. It was suitable to act at the Under the magpie tavern also because the theatre director’s home was situated quite close to it (Гельстон, Где играл…, “Еврейская Старина”, 2012, №4(75), 6).

Consequently, when in 1895 Gimpel received permission to use new premises on  Jagiełłońska  street 11, he was not in a hurry to move there (DALO 3/1/4144). The new hall was located deeply inside the yard and was virtually unnoticeable for passers-by; almost nobody knew about it. That is why Gimpel’s collective used it only in late autumn and winter. Till October of 1897 the troupe moved continually from Jagiełłońska  street 11 to Zamkova street 13 and backwards. Yosyf Gelston, a researcher studying the Jewish theatre in Lviv, supposes that these seasonal moves lasted, most probably, up to 1901, “until a summer theatre was constructed in the yard near the theatre building, and the necessity of seasonal migrations between the Under the magpie tavern and Jagiełłońska  street 11 existed no more” (Гельстон, Где играл…, “Еврейская Старина”, 2012, №4(75), 6).

After the theatre finally moved to the building on Jagiełłońska street 11, where a winter and a summer halls were located, a “permanent” period of its activity started, which lasted till the beginning of the First World War. All this time the troupe direction properly paid rent to the house owner Dr Rubin Sokal, a Lviv attorney. The Gimpels family was going to buy out the premises and to construct a modern theatre building there, but Maurycy Wurm, a London entrepreneur, outstripped them (Weinstock, 50-lecie teatru… “Chwila”, 1939, N7200, 11).
Having left Lviv for the time of the First World War, the theatre came back to the city in 1920. It can be said that the “permanent” period in the theatre history came to an end. A lingering lawsuit with the Lviv Magistrate technical department and the theatre building owner, Maurycy Wurm, lasted from 1920 till 1939 (DALO 1/28/1091). The latter insisted on the abolition of the leasing contract with the Jewish theatre direction. It looks like it was disadvantageous and unprofitable for him to maintain the theatre building and to reconstruct it according to the requirements of the Lviv Magistrate technical department (DALO 1/28/1091:32). Samuel Gimpel, on the other hand, referred to a contract which had been concluded with the city authorities by his father as long ago as the Habsburg Empire, that is, before the war (DALO 1/28/1091:22). The case materials can show the persistence of Wurm who wanted the Jewish theatre to leave his building and kept writing letters and appeals to the Magistrate, asking for permission to dismantle the wooden terraces. In 1925-1931 his letters were coming frequently and regularly and contained logical arguments in favour of his position; he asserted that Gimpel’s theatre had lost its popularity and was unprofitable, the building was treated without due care (DALO1/28/1091:45, 48). “The Jewish theatre is nothing more than a place of entertainment; it has no purpose of promoting culture and education and, in general, is not up to standard to be called a theatre” (DALO 1/28/1091:37). The reaction of the city authorities was restrained and very often inconsequent. Almost every year the Lviv Magistrate technical department favoured sometimes the theatre and sometimes the building owner. Inspections of the building, extensions and yard condition were conducted not often, and the conclusions were substantially different every time. It seems that the Magistrate workers were busy with more important things or tired of all this lingering lawsuit since they tried to reconcile the two sides and responded to the appeals with delay. For example, the court committee obliged both Maurycy Wurm and director Gimpel to take measures to maintain the building in good technical condition: “Measures will be taken if Wurm fails to repair the toilet sewerage. Samuel Gimpel’s request to exempt him from the obligation to repair the toilet was rejected in view of lack of arguments” (DALO 1/28/1091:30).

Because of this shaky position of the theatre premises in the years when the trial lasted, the Jewish theatre direction was compelled to look for other premises, so performances were given on Jagiełłońska  street 11 only sometimes. A leasing contract was concluded with the management of the theatrical complex located on Słoneczna street 25 and named Colosseum (DALO110/5/80-81). The Rozmaitości and Nowości theatres were permanently located there, as well as the Colosseum cinema; the Warsaw Opera and the Jewish chamber theatre from Lodz used to come on tour there. Interestingly enough, it is indicated in the concession to perform in the Colosseum, which was given to Gimpel, that he managed the only collective in the city performing in Yiddish (DALO 110/5/80-81:40), though we know that at least two amateur Yiddish theatres functioned at that time (Narepkin, 1945, 4). The theatre’s “travels around the city” were cut short by the Second World War. So we can see that the Jewish theatre could be called permanent only from 1897 till 1914, that is, in the period when most performances were given in the premises situated on Jagiełłońska  street 11. In other periods the theatre travelled around the city, from the Zamkova mountain vicinity to the central part of Lviv and the business centre of the Jewish district (then situated in the vicinity of contemporary Kulisha and Bałabana streets), leasing concert halls and giving performances on the same stage with Polish or touring Jewish collectives.


  1. Herman Narepkin, Broder-zinger, Gimpel teatr un Vikt / Yizkor-bikher, Galitsia, 1945, 4.
  2. Державний архів Львівіської області (ДАЛО) 1/28/1091:22, 30, 32, 37, 45, 48.
  3. ДАЛО 3/1/4144.
  4. ДАЛО 110/5/80-81:40.
  5. Meir Bałaban, Zykhroynes vegn yidishn teater in Lemberg un zayn grinder A. Goldfaden, “Yivo Bleter”, 1940, 1.
  6. Jakob Mestel, Literatur un teater (New-York, 1962), 37.
  7. L. Weinstock, 50-lecie teatru żydowskiego we Lwowie, “Chwila”, 8.04.1939, N7200, 11.
  8. Иосиф Гельстон, Где играл еврейский театр во Львове?, “Еврейская Старина”, 2012, №4(75), 6.
Written by Oksana Sikorska
Edited by Yulia Pavlyshyn

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