The Living Orphan
Der Lebediker Yusem

aka My Sonny
USA, 1937, 97 minutes, B&W
Yiddish with English subtitles
Directed by Joseph Seiden
Original Play by Sholom Secunda

with complete new English Subtitles by
The National Center for Jewish Film

Buy Now

Public Exhibition Format: 35mm

"A recording of a vanished landscape—Lower East Side streets, Second Avenue marquees, Romanian-style wine cellars—and a particular sensibility, as well as a two-hankie backstage domestic saga.... Crudely made, and lovingly restored by the National Center for Jewish Film, The Living Orphan is a musical weepie in which the separated showbiz couple spends the next dozen years competing for their child's affections. The Yiddish term for The Living Orphan is shund (trash), and it's a generous example, offering something for everyone."
-Village Voice, 2006


The Living Orphan is a dramatic tale of hardship that highlights some of the traumatic problems of the immigrant experience, including alcoholism, separation and poverty. The child star, Jerry Rosenberg (Ross) gives a memorable performance as the son Benny and the film introduces two European stars Fanina Rubina and Gustav Berger.

The plot centers on the story of a stage couple that develops marital problems due to the demands of the theatre. The husband, whose career is failing, insists that the wife stay home to tend their young son. The subplot focuses on the plight of a woman who chooses her career over family obligations.

Set in New York in the 1930's, the film contains some interesting street shots of the Lower East Side and a marvelous scene in the Bialystoker Old Folks Home. One of the best Second Avenue Yiddish theatre domestic melodramas produced in New York City just prior to World War II, the film provides a wonderful example of the sentimental dramas created to entertain and educate the immigrant community.

According to the documentation of the film, the Ohio Censorship Board demanded that one scene be eliminated in which the character Lebka says, "I should go to work for whom? For Morgan? For Rockerfeller, for Henry Ford? If the capitalists will go to work, then I will work. They don't have to work, they have plenty of money."

Selected Screenings

Cape Town/Johannesburg Yiddish Film Festival (2008)
Vienna Jewish Film Festival, Vienna Film Archive (2008)
Phoenix Jewish Film Festival (2007)
Toronto Jewish Film Society (2007)
Tucson Jewish Film Festival (2007)
Phoenix Jewish Film Festival (2007)
Washington DC Jewish Film Festival (2006)
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (2006)
New York Jewish Film Festival (2006)
Ashkenaz Festival, Toronto (2006)
U.S. PREMIERE New York Jewish Film Festival (2006)
WORLD PREMIERE Jerusalem International Film Festival (2005)

NCJF Film Restoration

Restoration was completed with funding from The National Endowment for the Arts, Rita and Stanley H. Kaplan Foundation in memory of Gladys and Saul Gwirtzman & The Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation.

The National Center for Jewish Film owns the original nitrate negative and all the rights and copyrights to the property. This film, together with pieces of 30 feature film titles, was acquired in 1976 from the family of Joseph Seiden.


Director Joseph Seiden
Screenplay Joseph Seiden, Chaim Tauber
Adapted from the play by Sholom Secunda
Producer Joseph Seiden
Cinematography J. Burgi Contner, Edward Hyland
Production Design John Allstadt. Maurice McDermott
Assistant Director Herman Rosen
Sound Murray Dichter, Paul Jacobs
Music Director Aleksandr Olshanetsky

2004 Restoration © The National Center for Jewish Film
Executive Director Sharon Pucker Rivo
Associate Director Miriam Saul Krant
Technical Director Rich Pontius
Translator Peter A. Stark
Title Animation Frame Shop
Laboratory Cinema Arts, Inc.

Fania Rubina (Freda Berger)
Gustav Berger (Muni Berger)
Jerry Rosenberg (Benny Berger)
Herman Rosen (Mr. Salkin)
Harry Field (Chaim Green)
Jacob Zanger (Lebke)
Jennie Cashier (Malka Berger)
Ida Dvorkin (Sarah Berger)
Rose Schwartzberg
Yetta Zwerling

External Links

Complete Village Voice review following the film's screening at the New York Jewish Film Festival 2005

Purchase the Film

Home Use DVD: $29.95

Does not include Classroom or Library Use Rights or Public Performance Rights. More Information


Classroom/Library Use DVD: $250

Does not include Public Performance Rights. More Information

Digital Site Licensing (DSL) available - Contact us

Step down pricing for K-12 & public libraries may be available - Contact us

Arrange a screening - Contact us

Also directed by Joseph Seiden

God, Man and Devil

Great Cantors 2-Disc Set (Performances from The Voice of Israel)

I Want to Be a Boarder

Kol Nidre

Motl the Operator

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