The 'Ensemble,' the cast of a children's Purim play in costume, 1945-Mar 1948. Pictured is Yanas Turkov. USHMM (20396), courtesy of Seymour Kaftan.
Artur Gold

The suffering inflicted by the Holocaust did not end with the collapse of the Nazi regime.  Those European Jews who survived the ghettos and camps were faced not only with the deaths of friends and family but also, in most cases, with the loss of their homelands: for the large Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe, especially Poland, return to their former homes was no longer possible.  Even those Jews who originally returned to their native countries after the war, hoping to help rebuild Jewish communities there, often gave up, believing that what had been lost could never be regained.  The well-known Yiddish theatre actor Yonas Turkov was one such survivor, a central figure in the early post-war Polish Jewish community.  One of the founding members of the Association of Jewish Writers, Journalists and Actors, and its first chairman, Turkov organised cultural events and gathered information about the missing and the dead, hoping to consolidate and strengthen the community of Polish Jews that had gathered in Lublin and his home city of Warsaw.  However, after less than a year in liberated Poland, he  wrote in his diary:

Today Warsaw no longer belongs to me; my yesterday was cut down, and my tomorrow?  Better not to think of it - here … Warsaw, my Warsaw - for me you are dead!

Before the German invasion of Poland, Warsaw had indeed been Turkov’s city.  As one of the area’s pre-eminent Yiddish theatre actors, Turkov (b. 1898) was a much-loved public figure, and along with his talented wife, the singer Diana Blumenfeld, a prominent member of the cultural elite.  After the establishment of the Warsaw ghetto, he maintained his commitment to entertainment, as well as his connections to important cultural figures in the city.  Walled in with his parents and siblings, he performed in several of the ghetto’s theatres, and was also active in social welfare programs.  He wrote in his diary of the common cause that united

all the cultured people in Warsaw at the time without exception, both social and political forces, [who] devote themselves unstintingly to all spheres of Jewish self-help.

As the situation in the ghetto increasingly worsened, his sisters turned themselves in for deportation.  Eventually, only Turkov and his wife were left of the family. They managed to escape the ghetto and survive the war. 

After the war, Turkov and Blumenfeld went to Lublin, which already since July 1944 had been a centre for Polish Jews who had survived the Nazi years.  Turkov was a central figure in establishing an independent association of Jewish journalists, writers and actors, a group that organised cultural and musical events for Holocaust survivors in Lublin, and later, Warsaw.  Despite this early success, he soon realised that he could not stay in his homeland.  He and his wife emigrated in the autumn of 1945, depressed by loneliness and the continued antisemitism they encountered.  They performed for Jewish communities throughout the world, including the United States, Israel and, especially in the 1950s, in the émigré communities in South America.  Turkov died in 1988 at the age of ninety.

Sources

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

Gutman, I., 1982. The Jews of Warsaw 1939-1943: Ghetto, Underground, Revolt, Bloomington: *.