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A Brivele der mamen (1938)

One of the last Yiddish films made in Poland before the Nazi invasion, this film tells the story of a mother's persistent struggles to support her three children in pre-war World War II ... See full summary »


Joseph Green, Jecheskiel Mosze Neuman (literary collaborator) | 2 more credits »


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Complete credited cast:
Lucy Gehrman Lucy Gehrman ... Debora Berdyczewska
Misha Gehrman Misha Gehrman ... Mr. Stein - HIAS director
Gertrude Bulman Gertrude Bulman ... Miriam Berdyczewska
Max Bozyk Max Bozyk ... Szymon / Shimen, the Tailor (as Maks Bozyk)
Alexander Stein Alexander Stein ... Dawid Berdyczewski
Simche Fostel Simche Fostel ... The Cantor
Chana Lewin Chana Lewin ... Malke, wife of Shimen
Izak Grudberg Izak Grudberg ... Meir Berdyczewski
Samuel Landau Samuel Landau ... Hersh Leib, fabric wholesaler
Irving Bruner Irving Bruner ... Aron 'Arele' Berdyczewski
Edmund Zayenda Edmund Zayenda ... Irving Bird / Arnold Berd / Aron 'Arele' Berdyczewski as an adult
Edward Sternbach Edward Sternbach
Berta Gersten Berta Gersten ... (as Berta Gerstin)
Leon Kaswiner Leon Kaswiner
Gustav Berger Gustav Berger


One of the last Yiddish films made in Poland before the Nazi invasion, this film tells the story of a mother's persistent struggles to support her three children in pre-war World War II Polish Ukraine. After her family is pulled apart by severe poverty and the turmoil of war, she and her children make their way to New York and turn to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society for help. Written by National Center for Jewish Film

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis






Poland | USA



Release Date:

14 September 1939 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Eternal Song See more »

Filming Locations:

Lviv, Ukraine


Box Office


PLN 301,040 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Green-Film See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (British Acoustic)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Released on 14 September 1939, two weeks after the German blitzkrieg over Poland, this film opened to packed audiences at the Belmont Theater in New York. See more »


Referenced in Mamadrama: The Jewish Mother in Cinema (2001) See more »

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User Reviews

THE MOTHER of all Jewish Mother movies, in Yiddish yet!
14 June 2015 | by barev-85094See all my reviews

ABDM is one of the great classics of the pre-war Yiddish cinema and one of the great all time films on the subject of immigration to America. It was the culmination of Joseph Green's amazing four film cycle of Yiddish films made between 1937 and 1939, on the brink of WW II. The saga of a Jewish family opens in 1912 in Lubin, a small shtetl in the Ukraine and terminates in New York in the twenties after the war, where Mama ("Dobrish" Berditchever) finally tracks down her long lost son (the excellent tenor, Edmund Zayenda), the entire family's having been dispersed by the war. I All actors were top stars and character actors of both the Warsaw and New York Yiddish stage, and turn in uniformly superb performances.

The end of the war in 1918 brings the tragic news that Dobrish's eldest son was killed at the front. With her older son dead, her married daughter having run off to live in Odessa, her husband an unsuccessful runaway to America peddling on the streets and, worst of all, her little son "Arele" who had such a nice voice as a boy, also having disappeared without a trace — Dobrish is now a still proud but pathetic figure left behind without a ticket abandoned in Warsaw, and the promised letter from young son Arele has never come.

Enter Mr. Shein, the savior from America. This aristocratic figure of a man is the representative of HIAS (the Jewish Aid to Refugees organization) sent to Poland to assist in getting people out and over to America.. The minute he spots Dobrish milling around in a large hall with other prospective refugees he asks a colleague, — Who is that woman? — clearly, this is the 'coup-de-foudre' — love at first sight.

He secures her passage on the boat to America as his personal protégée. In New York the search commences in the immigrant community. Dobrish learns that her feckless husband, Dovid has passed away — but, what about her long lost little son, Ariel, who must now be a grown up man? Of Arele Berditchever no trace. "But we'll find him", Shein assures her.

Now the climax. At a benefit concert featuring star tenor "Irving Bird" (Could this "Bird" be a shortened version of an original name "Berd-itchever? — Youbetcha!) Even the most undiscerning viewer would not fail to realize that this handsome, young man is the long- lost Arele. However, when he takes the stage and brushes past Dobrish in the waiting room, she doesn't recognize him, nor does he even notice her!

As Bird launches into his final song of the night all recognize it as a song written by poor Dovid years ago back in the Ukraine. The song ends to thunderous applause, and Bird is besieged by fans. In the hubbub he again walks right past his mother without recognizing her in the crowd. Out on the street Dobrish is still in a trance as we see Bird getting into a waiting limousine. She steps off the curb and - bang is run down by this very car pulling away! Cut to the hospital. Dobrish comes out of a coma, and Bird-Arele is at her bedside. Is it too late? Mr. Shein on the other side of the bed says to her, "Do you know who this is?" — Dobrish, with her last remaining strength; "Ikh veiss –zog mir nit ~ "I know — don't tell me." As she throw her arm around Bird's leaning shoulder we hear the last word of the film, "Arele!" Is this her last word or will she survive in the brave new world with her long lost son? —The question is wisely left open …

This synopsis of the film may sound a bit like a shmaltzy melodrama but this picture is far more than the sum of its parts, This is in, every way, a polished work up to the best standards of late thirties international filmmaking. The editing is perfect, the camera-work, the incidental music, the performances — everything is first rate. But, above all this is a film about the processes and psychology of immigration — not just Jewish immigration — one which would have much to say to any other immigrant group regardless of ethnicity.

Max Bozyk is an entity unto himself, as Shimen the tailor — a star character actor if ever there was one. Tenor Edmund Zayenda, on a sheerly musical basis, was a quality singer as good or better than any of the crooners who populated Hollywood films of the late thirties — and a very handsome presence as well.

Finally, not enough can be said of Lucy Gherman's towering portrayal of "Dobrish", the heroine of the piece who, with incredible dignity in the face of every kind of adversity and tragedy, toughs it out and shows exactly what it means to be a "survivor" and a compassionate mother as well. Comparisons may be odious, but I would rate her Dobrish right up there with Helen Mirren's recent Queen Elizabeth II, and I don't think i'm is going too far out on a limb by saying that.

"A Brivele der Mamen" (A little letter to Mama ) is one of the two or three outstanding works of the Yiddish cinema and a timeless classic in its own right, regardless of language.

Alex Deleon, Seattle, March 10, 2007

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