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Benjamin Zuskin (Russian: Вениамин Зускин; April 28, 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 Russian SFSR. He was a laureate of the Stalin Prize in 1946.
Zuskin was born in April 1899 in the town of Ponevizh, then in the Kovna Gubernya, today Panevėžys, Lithuania, a son of a tailor. He attended a cheder. Zuskin was admitted into a college in 1911. Following the April 1915 defeat of a Russian army at the hands of the German army, the Russian authorities ordered the mass deportation of Jews living in central Lithuania to the interior of the Russian Empire—approximately 250,000 were expelled. The Zuskin family went to Penza on the Europeans side of the Urals. There he met and married the daughter of another deported family, Rachel Holand (in Russian, Goland). In Penza, Benjamin continued his studies and took roles in a local theatre. In 1920 he became a student of Sverdlovsk Geological Institute, but in 1921 asked for transfer to Moscow Geological Institute. In that year, a daughter, Tamara, was born in Moscow. Shortly afterwards, however, Benjamin and Rachel separated, and Rachel and Tamara moved to Rachel's home town, Ukmerge, Lithuania, and soon thereafter to Kaunas, which was the temporary capital of Lithuania. Tamara rejoined her father in Moscow in 1935 and enrolled in medical school there. (Rachel, her second husband, and their three children remained in Kaunas. All but one daughter were killed in the Kovna ghetto, the urban concentration camp established by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators in the Viliampole / Shlabodke neighborhood of Kaunas.) Benjamin remarried in 1935 and had another daughter, Alla. His second wife died in 1937.
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 Alexis Granowsky'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 Joseph Stalin's orders in the event known as the Night of the Murdered Poets on August 12, 1952.
- Zuskina-Perelman, Alla (B.Z.'s daughter): Benjamin's Travels (Puteshestvie Veniamina: Razmyshlenia o zhizni, tvorchestve i sudbe evreĭskogo aktera Veniamina Zuskina. Moskva: Mosty kultury; Ierusalim: Gesharim, 2002)