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Jakub Rotbaum (Yankev Rotboym), 1901-1994
Rotbaum, Jewish theatrical director and painter, was born in Wroclaw. He was the older brother to Lia (Lisa) Rotbaum, a choreographer and director whose name also recurs in the programs of the Esther-Rokhl Kaminska Collection. After high school, he attended the School of Decorative Arts, The School of Fine Arts and the Film School in Warsaw. In 1923, he went to Berlin to study painting and met with the Vakhtangov Theatre. He made his directorial debut in 1925, acting as an assistant director in Warsaw’s Azazel cabaret theater, and the following year "The Post Office" also in Warsaw. In 1928, Rotbaum was commissioned by a private Jewish film producer from New York to direct a documentary film on Jewish life in the small towns and villages of Poland.
While in Moscow in the same year, Rotbaum completed drama studies and, in particular, focused on the workings and directing methods of the famous Soviet theatre of Meyerhold Tairow and Stanisławski. After returning from Moscow in 1929, Rotboym began his professional career staging Eugene O'Neill plays with the famed Vilna Troupe. During this time in Europe, many productions he directed were filled with dramatic conflicts that seemed to evolve from the sociopolitical themes of the day. In 1930, he directed the troupe in a number of successful productions including a Yiddish translation of All God’s Chillun’ Got Wings by Eugene O'Neill.
From 1930 to 1938, Rotbaum devoted much time to his other passion, painting, and he organized exhibitions of his own work in many Polish cities (Warsaw, Łódź, Katowice, Lublin, Vilno, Kovno, Róvne, Gdańsk, and others). His work comprised characteristic portraits: Jewish, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, peasant-types and a large collection of theatrical portraits (the majority from the Jewish theatre), such as that of Itzik Manger (1901-1969) and Nahum Zemach, founder of "Habima”, Shlomo Mikhoels (1890-1948) and many others. Throughout his life, Rotbaum continued to paint the Jewish faces he remembered from his youth; this work received numerous awards.In 1938, Jakub Rotbaum directed a few Yiddish shows at the then avant-garde Jewish theater P. I. A. T., or Parizer yidisher avant garde Teater. In 1940 he was invited by Yiddish great Maurice Schwartz to direct his Yiddish Art Theatre troupe in three plays: Sholem Aleichem's Sender Blank, Sholem Asch’s Uncle Moses (Onkl Mozes), and Bergelson's We Want to Live (Mir viln lebn).
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“Jakub Rotbaum (Yankev Rotboym), 1901-1994,” YIVO Online Exhibitions, accessed March 2, 2024, https://strashunlibrary.yivo.org/items/show/2298.