My Lexicon - Leon Draykurs (Dreikurs)
Born in Lemberg (Lviv), 1894. Austrian soldier, 1914-1918. Novelist, journalist, and actor in Warsaw, since 1926. Prior to that, travelled through South Central Europe with an acting troupe. 1939, radio presenter in Lemberg.
In 1911, a new face appeared amidst the literary group Young Yiddish, which was then want to spend whole days and most of the nights strolling along the corso of what was then known as Karl Ludwig street (karolo-ludviko gas) in Lemberg. He either didn’t have a name or didn’t want to say it. He did , however, publish lovely poems in the Poale Zion newspaper under the editorship of Berl Loker (Locker). He either signed them “***” or with an ever-changing set of initials. He had dark blue eyes, a thick tshuprine (forelock) of brown hair, and a typically Hungarian-Jewish face with an aquiline nose. He laughed a lot, never looked anyone in the eye, wore a kind of student’s uniform, and, if you asked him if he was in fact a civilian, he would begin to sing--and he sang beautifully. He was then a rising star and we literary youths--A. M. Fuks, Sh. I. Imber and, above all, (berosh) Dovid Kenigsberg--had to take a stance on this new and nameless phenomenon.
A little while later, the new phenomenon stripped himself entirely of his student uniform, whether it was or was not in fact a uniform, and began performing at intimate events (heymishe vetsherinkes), singing original songs and old standards. Malke Loker, Berl Loker’s wife who was then but a singer and would one day become a poet, became the patroness of the new phenomenon, who had by now acquired a simple, Lemberger name: Leon Draykurs.
In 1913 the writer of this “Lexicon” left for Vienna and in 1914 the first World War came and Leon Draykurs wound up somewhere in South Central Europe--that corner of the world that has always been, from the perspective of Yiddish culture, neither here nor there. There, between Poland, Germany, Romania, and Yugoslavia, there, where it both is and isn’t Hungary, there, where the ghosts of all befores run rampant. There, Jews with short coats mingle with Jews with great caps (kapelyushn) and peyot down to their belts and “shoes and stockings'' and with generations of converts (meshumodim bney meshumodim). There, fine German mixed with fresh Magyar-Hungarian and a strange Yiddish that sounded as if it was taken straight from the pages of Glückel of Hameln, and hundreds of thousands of Jews lived between those borders. In Galicia, we called them “Water-Polacks” (vaser-polakn). Why Water-Polacks? I have heard a hundred and one explanations and not one of them makes a lick of sense. Leon Draykurs spent years with a [theater] troupe among the Water-Polacks, where you could disappear like a stone in water. He became an actor.
Between the end of the of World War I and 1926, when he resurfaced in Warsaw, he would often poke his head above the surface of the Water-Polacks in Lemberg, to edit that paper in which he had debuted fifteen years before. But between 1923 and 1939 there was a great wave of emigration from Galicia to Warsaw, and Draykurs was borne along by the current. The Galician conquistadors, whose doctorly noses sniffed out the existence of another land, let’s call it Warsaw, came and conquered it. They occupied all the intellectual positions. Draykurs spent years hanging around Warsaw’s Yiddish theaters until he finally surfaced as one of the most capable editors of the Polish-Jewish newspaper Nasz Przegląd (Our Review, נאש פשעגלאנד). A Litvak can, when necessary, become a wetnurse, but a Galitzianer cannot (when necessary) just become a wetnurse nor even nurse a child.
To this day (1940), after thirty years, I still don’t know what Leon Draykurs is. He wrote an excellent novel and he wrote excellent poems and epics poems and he was an actor and a folk singer who put on concerts and a Yiddish journalist in a yellow paper and a journalist in a Polish newspaper and a prompter in a theater and a radio announcer.
Draykurs once told me that he had not yet become a world-famous actor because he cannot speak on stage:
“I’m thirsty, hand me a glass of water...now look at me: I’m not ugly, I’m well-built, with a good voice, sharp facial features, I do my make-up well, have good diction, I’m very limber, well-read, graduated a drama program (dramatishe shule), speak Yiddish well, I’m not overly intellectual, I know how to act and what to do, but-- -- --when I come home, dead tired, I tell my wife ‘Regina dear, (reginele), hand me a cold glass of water’ and I say it just like a person does, but if I say the same thing on stage, I cluck like a turkey, I bring forth my deepest bass and bellow like a mighty hero ‘Regina! Hand me a glass of water!’ And that is why I have not become a world-famous actor.”
That is Leon Draykurs, a friend from those young, lovely Lemberg days who will never again return, not to me and not to anyone.
Photographs of Leon Draykurs provided by his Granddaughter Nataly Maimon