Master Yiddish Actor
Born Shloyme Vovsi in Dvinsk (now Daugavpils, Latvia) in 1890, the future Shloyme Mikhoels went to school in Riga and attended the law faculty in Petrograd before becoming the lead actor in Alexander Granovsky‘s Jewish chamber theater, which later became GOSET, the Moscow State Yiddish Theater.
Shloyme (also known professionally as Solomon) Mikhoels performed a wide variety of roles—from the comic to the tragic—although his 1935 performance as King Lear was the most widely acclaimed in his career.
Mikhoels in a scene from Granovsky’s 1925 classic film Jewish Luck (יידישע גליק [Yidishe glik] • Еврейское Счастье)
In 1939, he was awarded the Order of Lenin and was named a People’s Artist of the USSR. In 1941, after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Mikhoels became the chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (alongside other Yiddish cultural luminaries).
In 1948, on direct orders from Stalin, Mikhoels was assassinated and his death staged to look like a truck accident. His funeral became a mass protest attended by over 10,000 people. At his funeral, his friend Peretz Markish read an elegy paying tribute to the great artist and attacking the state that killed him:
Shloyme Mikhoels —
An Eternal Flame at Your Coffin
Your last appearance before your folk
took place in snow-covered rubble.
But, voicelessly, no word you spoke…
your frozen breath a silent bubble…
translated by Hershl Hartman
שלמה מיכאָעלס —
אַ נר תּמיד בייַם אָרון
דיַין לעצטער אויפטריט פאַרן פאָלק
צווישן בראָכשטיקער מיט שניי באַשאָטן.
נאָר — אָן דיַין וואָרט — אָן דיַין קול.
בלויז פאַרקילטער אָטעם…