A Polish Jewish theatre actress and director. She was perhaps most well-known as the daughter of the ‘Mother of the Jewish Stage’, Ester Rachel Kamińska. The Jewish Theatre in Warsaw, Poland is named in their honour.
Ida Kamińska was born at the Theatrical Hotel in Odessa during one of her parents numerous tours around Europe. Odessa, at the time, was part of the Russian Empire (today’s Ukraine). Her precise place of birth comes as no surprise: she was born into a Jewish theatrical family: her mother, Ester Rachel Kamińska, was a famed Yiddish stage actress, while her father Abraham Kamiński, was an actor, director and stage producer. She had two siblings: her sister Regina was also an actress, while her brother Józef Kamiński, was a composer.
Kamińska’s career on the stage began at the young age of six. One of her earliest roles she played was the grandson of the main character (who, incidentally, was played by her mother) in Jakob Gordin's play Mirele Efros. By the time she was 18, she had acted in both dramas and comedies and had even directed plays for her father’s theatre troupe. Theatre was in her blood.
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In 1918, she married Yiddish actor and director Zygmunt Turkow (1896-1970), who was a member of her parents' troupe. Just a year later, they had a daughter, Ruth Kamińska-Turkow. Following a three-year-long Kamiński theatre tour around the Soviet Union, the couple settled in Warsaw. It was in 1922, in the Polish capital, that they established the so-called Warsaw Jewish Art Theatre, with Ida Kamińska as the principal actress.
They divorced in 1932, the same year that Kamińska had set up her own theatre company in Warsaw – the Drama Theatre of Ida Kamińska, which went strong until the outbreak of World War II. In July 1936, she married Yiddish actor Marian (Meir) Melman (1900-1978).
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In October 1939, the Kamiński family fled to Lviv, which at the time was under Soviet occupation. Throughout the war, the Kamiński family was forced to relocate to different cities and towns across the Soviet Union, ending up in today’s Kyrgyzstan. In 1944, they found themselves in Moscow, and Ida Kamińska found herself back in Yiddish theatre productions.
After World War II, the Kamiński family returned to Warsaw. The Holocaust had decimated the Polish Jewish population and had all but completely extinguished all glimmers of Polish Jewish culture. This, however, did not stop Kamińska and her husband from re-establishing a Jewish theatre in the capital. The Yiddish theatre was reopened in November 1946, and in 1949 the Polish government actually subsidised the establishment of the Jewish State Theatre of Poland – and Kamińska was asked to serve as its artistic director. The theatre troupe toured around Poland, visiting cities such as Łódź and Wrocław, and, in 1957, Kamińska went on tour to Israel, where she performed for the prime minister herself, Ms. Golda Meir.
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For more than a decade, the Yiddish theatre as it is known, served as an international showcase for what ‘national minorities’ could accomplish under the communist regime. But in the small Polish Jewish community that remained and among Holocaust survivors around the globe, Kamińska was revered, a figure who continued to create in the Yiddish language (and culture) and represented its highest cultural aspirations. She also developed strong ties to the Polish theatre world – her productions were reviewed and acclaimed in the Polish press.
She stayed on at the helm of the theatre until 1968. In protest against the communist regime’s infamous antisemitic campaign of March 1968. she left Poland in July 1968, to never come back.
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Ida Kamińska also dabbled in film acting. In 1965, she starred as Mrs. Lautmann in the film The Shop on Main Street (‘Obchod na Korze’, directed by Ján Kadár & Elmar Klos, Czechoslovakia), for which she was nominated for the most coveted of awards: an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Her performance also received a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as nominations for the Golden Globe Award.
In 1967, she directed herself in the lead role of Mother Courage and Her Children on Broadway. In 1973, she released her autobiography, titled My Life, My Theater. Often in her own roles, Kamińska portrayed, unsurprisingly, a succession of wise and heroic women.
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A group of Jewish writers at the I.L. Peretz's ohel in the Jewish Cementery in Warsaw in Okopowa Street. From left: Jakub Zonszajn, NN, Bernard Mark, Dawid Sfard, Hadasa Rubin, Ida Kamińska, Binem Heller, Ruta Kowalska (?), NN, photo: Jewish Historical Institute
A group of Jewish writers at the I.L. Peretz's ohel in the Jewish Cementery in Warsaw in Okopowa Street. From left: Jakub Zonszajn, NN, Bernard Mark, Dawid Sfard, Hadasa Rubin, Ida Kamińska, Binem Heller, Ruta Kowalska (?), NN. Photo: Jewi…
Ester Rachel Kamińska
During her extraordinary and fruitful career, Ida Kamińska produced more than 70 plays, and performed in more than 150 productions. She was one of but a handful of female stage directors in interwar Poland, and she translated, staged and performed in scores of plays by authors including Polish novelist Eliza Orzeszkowa and the likes of Romain Rolland, Eugene O’Neill, and Nikolai Gogol, as well as in Yiddish classics. She also wrote two plays.
She spent the rest of her life in Israel, and then New York. Ida Kamińska passed away of cardiovascular disease at the age of 80. She was buried in the Yiddish theatre section of the Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, New York. The Yiddish Theatre in Warsaw is named after her and her mother, Ester Rachel Kamińska.
Sources: YIVO Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Dziennik Teatralny, Virtual Shtetl
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