Diana Blumenfeld and Jonas Turkow), two Jewish actors in Poland. Photographed during the show "Dream Theory of Freud" staged in the Warsaw. Ghetto Fighter House.

Born in Warsaw in 1906, Diana Blumenfeld was one of the most talented and beloved musicians of the Warsaw ghetto.  Although she had formally studied piano, it was as a singer that she was most successful, and her beautiful alto voice inspired some of Warsaw’s best songwriters to compose songs specifically for her.

In 1923, Blumenfeld married Yonas Turkov, who was on his way to becoming one of the most successful actors of the inter-war Yiddish theatre world.  Once Blumenfeld was caught in the ghetto along with her husband, family and friends, she continued to sing, performing in cafes and in the ghetto theatre Femina on Leshno Street, singing the Yiddish ‘Kulis’ (Coolies), ‘Di Broyt Farkoyfern’ (The Bread Seller) and ‘A Yid’ (A Jew), among other songs.  Such was Blumefeld's popularity, that Mordechai Gebirtig sent her his new songs with the plea that she spread them throughout the ghetto.

Along with her husband, she managed to escape the liquidation of the ghetto, and the couple was central to the immediate post-war reformation of Polish Jewish culture.  The first event organised by the Association of Jewish Writers, Journalists and Actors, of which Turkov was the chairman, was a concert in December 1944.  In the hall of the Lublin Conservatory, Blumenfeld’s alto rang out with the Yiddish songs of a community that had been almost entirely destroyed by the Nazi genocide.

Blumenfeld also performed frequently on Polish radio in Lublin and Warsaw, touring Displaced Persons’ camps in Germany and giving concerts for survivors.  However, both she and her husband rapidly realised that the world of Eastern European Jewry no longer existed, and that they could no longer perform in what they perceived to be a mass graveyard.  Blumenfeld and Turkov left Poland in 1945, and toured Europe before beginning an international career, performing and singing all over North and South America, as well as Israel.   Diana Blumenfeld died in New York in 1961.

Sources

Cohen, N., ‘The Renewed Association of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Poland, 1945-48’. Available at: www2.trincoll.edu/~mendele/tmr/tmr09004.htm.

Fater, Y., 1970. Yidishe muzik in poyln tsvishn beyde velt-milkohmes, Tel Aviv: Velt federatsye fun poylishe yidn.  

Gilbert, S., 2005. Music in the Holocaust: Confronting Life in the Nazi Ghettos and Camps, Oxford: Oxford University Press.  

Katsherginski, S. & Leivick, H. eds., Lider fun di Getos un Lagern, New York: Alveltlekher Yidisher Kultur-Kongres.