Goldberg, Amos – A Fool or a Prophet: Rubinstein the Warsaw Ghetto Jester

Amos Goldberg’s lecture brought a new jester to my attention. Rubinstein cavorted – you cannot say flourished – in the Warsaw Ghetto between 1941 and 1942. Goldberg presents a detailed and touching picture of this poignant character operating in a horrific context, partly encouraging people, partly drawing painful attention to the inequalities of the Ghetto (and presumably, life in general). Goldberg includes an array of anecdotes by survivors who remembered Rubinstein vividly and we will be featuring some of these in the months to come.

He had the hallmarks of a court jester, fearless to the point of recklessness, and with a certain degree of licence. It seems he even aimed his barbs at German guards and they let him get away with it. As with some court fools, people couldn’t quite make out if he was insane or just pretending to be so, perhaps in part to secure extra scraps of money or food – by shouting anti-Hitler slogans in a public place, people would cough up a bit to buy his silence.    

Goldberg also touches on Rubinstein’s feigned death, which reads like a folk fool anecdote worthy of Tenali Rama in India, before giving differing eyewitness accounts of his real death.  He also shares Rubinstein’s enigmatic equation regarding how many Jews would survive the ghetto.  And Rubinstein himself introduces his wife. 

In addition to bringing Rubinstein to life, Goldberg also shares references to some wandering or itinerant Jewish entertainers in 19th and early 20th century Eastern Europe, who also lobbed irreverent brickbats at authorities or institutions. 

This is a transcript of a lecture forthcoming as a book chapter.  As such, it lacks some precise references to the excellent primary source materials it cites, which we assume will be provided in full in the published version. 

See also Joseph Roth’s comment on pre-Holocaust itinerant Jewish jesters. 

Source: Goldberg, Amos, ‘A Fool or a Prophet: Rubinstein the Warsaw Ghetto Jester’, The 2019 J. B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Annual Lecture at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 13 March 2019

  1. Hank Greenspan

    Hi Beatrice,

    The play will be produced online at the end of May and into early June. Let me know if you’d like a link.


    • beatriceotto

      Yes please! Thanks for thinking of it and look forward to seeing the play. Beatrice

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