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Benjamin Zuskin

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Benjamin Zuskin (Russian: Вениамин Зускин; ? 1899 - August 12, 1952) was a Jewish actor and director in Moscow State Jewish Theater. Zuskin had a title of the People's actor of the RSFSR. He was a laureate of the Stalin Prize in 1946.


Zuskin was born in the town of Zemelis in Lithuania in 1899, a son of a tailor. He attended a cheder. Zuskin was admitted into a college in 1911. During World War I, Russian authorities considered Jewish population in wartime regions as treasonous and in 1915, about 250,000 were expelled into inner cities of Russia. The Zuskin family was sent to Penza where Benjamin kept on his studies and took roles at a local theatre. In 1920 he became a student of Sverdlovsk Geological Institute, but in 1921 asked for transfer to Moscow Geological Institute.

Theatre life

Zuskin joined Moscow State Jewish Theater in 1921. In the same year Zuskin, together with Solomon Mikhoels, set on the stage a play "Sholom Aleichem's Party". In 1922 he played a major role in "Witch" by Abraham Goldfaden.


Zuskin's performance blended with Alexander Granovsky's system of organic interrelation of a word and gesture, plastics and rhythm of movements. His characteristic features were light humor and romanticism which gave additional tints to a controversial life of Jewish hamlet of shtetl. His roles showed to the audience a quarry of talented people among their routine activities.

Zuskin was a partner of Mikhoels until the latter's suspicious death in car accident in Minsk, in January 1948 when he became the Theater's artistic director. Since 1935 he was also teaching at the actors' studio at the Theater. His most famous role was that of the Fool in King Lear with Solomon Mikhoels in the title role.


Zuskin was a featured actor of Soviet movies.

  • A Man from a Shtetl («Человек из местечка»), 1930.
  • Happiness Hunters («Искатели счастья»), 1936.
  • Unsubdued («Непокоренные»), 1945.


As a prominent member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, he was arrested at a hospital while being treated for nervous exhaustion and later executed on Stalin's orders in the event known as the Night of the Murdered Poets on August 12, 1952.

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