The Dybbuk in Krakow: Yiddish Theater and the Struggles of Modernity

Ever since the first performances in 1887, the history of Yiddish theater in Krakow had been filled with continuous struggle. In addition to difficulties with obtaining a permanent venue (finally erected in 1910), the theater was confronted with incessant attempts to stifle the Jewish theatrical activities, resulting from apprehension and objections by both non-Jews and Jews unfamiliar with the new forms of Jewish cultural production. Despite some remarkable achievements, such as the establishment of the Krakow Jewish Theater Association in 1926, which aimed to support and promote the theater in Krakow, and guest appearances by such Yiddish theater stars as Ida Kaminska, Molly Picon & Jacob Kalich, and the Vilna Troupe, the history of the Krakow Yiddish Theater was marked by numerous internal conflicts, constant financial difficulties, and striving to fill the auditoriums. Last but not least, the Yiddish theater in Krakow was also an important site of contestation between high and low cultures.
The history of S. An-sky’s The Dybbuk, one of the most famous productions in the history of Yiddish theater, repeatedly featured in Krakow, serves as an excellent case study. Taking a closer look at The Dybbuk in Krakow and its reception in both the Yiddish and Polish-language Jewish press, this papers explores the Krokever Yidish Teater struggles of modernity and addresses the following questions: How did the endless nationalist cultural tensions, reinforced by local politics and anti-Semitism, affect the Yiddish theater in Krakow? How did the struggles between high and low art forms impact this process at the time when “jargon [Yiddish] sought to establish itself as the official language of the Jewish minority”? Finally, why did the Krakow Yiddish Theater never become a success story?