After the pogrom in 1905, the family decided to return to Vilnius. Buzgan ended up at a teacher training college. This is where he discovered his passion for recitation and performance. He was a passionate member of Molski’s drama club, which staged plays in Russian.

He began his theatre career as a prompter. In 1921, together with a travelling theatre, he arrived in Łódź, where he was admitted to the Vilna Troupe. However, he quickly exchanged the prompt corner for the stage. It turned out that Buzgan had an excellent memory, an ability to bring out the most important aspects in a role, as well as great physiognomy. Together with the Troupe, he toured many towns and cities in Poland and in Europe. In subsequent years, he performed in different theatre ensembles, among others of the Yiddish Folk Theatre (Yiddish: Yidish Folks-teater) of Nachum Lipowski, the Vilnius Drama Troupe, the Warsaw Yiddish Art Theatre (Yiddish: Varshever Yidisher Kunst-teater, VYKT). Buzgan spent the late 1920s in Riga together with his wife Rywa Szyler, an actress herself, performing at the Minority Theatre, and later at the New Jewish Theatre. There, he also joined the touring actors ensemble headed by Juliusz Adler and Lidia Potocka. After 1932, he returned to acting in plays of the Vilna Troupe, and later performed around Poland in a travelling troupe alongside Symche Natan.

In 1936, he appeared in his first feature film, the Yiddish-language Al kheyt (Yiddish: For the Sin) directed by Aleksander Marten. In the same year, he published Hantbukh far aktyorn (Yiddish: Handbook for Actors) in Yiddish, where he provided plenty practical tips on achieving various facial expressions with the use of appropriate makeup.

In 1939, Khevel Buzgan and his wife were invited to Argentina for performances in the Teatro Soleil in Buenos Aires. Their daughter stayed in Poland to take care of Buzgan’s mother. The outbreak of World War II rendered it impossible for them to return to Poland or bring their daughter to South America. The Buzgans remained in South America for the next 10 years. During that time, they performed with actors from the Vilna Troupe in Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile.

In 1949, Khevel and Rywa Buzgan returned to Poland. The two of them joined the Łódź ensemble of the Jewish Theatre, which was managed by Ida Kamińska. In her memoirs, Kamińska described their return in the following way:

“It was a mid-tier ensemble, strengthened by the actor couple: Khevel and Rywa Buzgan. They asked me to take them back from Argentina. In Russia, they had their only daughter and grandson. Khevel was the pillar of our ensemble, and his wife was also highly skilled”.

[adapted from Kamińska I., Moje życie, mój teatr, Warsaw 1995, p. 207]

In 1955, the Jewish theatre ensembles from Łódź and Warsaw were merged and Warsaw became home of the State Jewish Theatre. It was in Warsaw that the Buzgans finally managed to settle down. 

They joined an ensemble of pre-war actors, old partners from the stages of Warsaw and Vilnius, for instance Ida Kamińska, Marian Melman, Ruth Taru-Kowalska or Michał Szwejlich.

Khevel Buzgan was one of the leading actors. He performed in classic plays of the Jewish theatre, such as Sholem Aleichem’s Sender Blank and His Family, Tevye the Milkman, An-sky’s The Dybbuk, Mendele Moykher Sforim’s The Dreamers from Kapcansk (Yiddish: Di troymer fun kabtsansk), as well as in international dramatic works: Karl Gutzkow’s Uriel Acosta, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, Maxim Gorky’s The Philistines or Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. He put on outstanding performances in the title roles in Halpern Leivick’s The Golem and Samuel Halkin’s Bar Kokhba. Buzgan had exceptional mimicry skills. He could transform into a new character in an instant. He greatly enjoyed experimenting with theatrical makeup. Over the course of more than 20 years of working at the Jewish theatre managed by Kamińska, Buzgan translated, adapted and directed many plays. He directed plays such as Halpern Leivick’s The Golem, Ansky’s The Dybbuk or Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye.

In 1968, when many actors decided to emigrate due to the anti-Semitic campaign, Buzgan remained in Warsaw. After Ida Kamińska’s departure, he took over as the artistic director of the State Jewish Theatre. He died on 26 April 1971 and was buried at the Jewish cemetery at Okopowa Street in Warsaw, right next to Estera Rachel Kamińska.

Aleksandra Król

Bibliography:

  • Archive of the Jewish Theatre.
  • Buzgan Chewel, [in] Zylbercwajg Z., Leksikon fun jidiszn teater, vol. 1, New York 1931.
  • Klejt S., Chewel Buzgan, [in] 25 lat Państwowego Teatru Żydowskiego w Polskiej Rzeczypospolitej Ludowej, Warsaw 1975.
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