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Salomea Palińska – a rival of Modjeska

By dr Mikołaj Getka-Kenig

In the mid-19th century, Salomea Palińska was the most celebrated stage actress in Warsaw, but the arrival of Helena Modjeska (Modrzejewska) resulted in the twilight of her great career.

Salomea Palińska was born in 1831 in Płock, as Sara Ryfka Adelschon, a daughter of Dawid and Ajdla née Rupik. She spent her youth in Warsaw, where she and her immediate family embraced the Roman Catholic faith in 1844 – that time she also changed her surname from Adelschon to Palińska, after her stepfather, an affluent merchant whose business connections streched as far west as London (where he temporarily lived). Her godfather was the Russian viceroy of the Kingdom of Poland Ivan Paskevich – it was an old Polish custom that kings (or thier direct representatives, as in this case) sponsored neophyte baptisms. In the subsequent years of her life, Palińska’s Jewishness became an open secret in Warsaw and she herself tried to hide her Jewish roots for fear of Christian prejudices and potential stigmatization (for example, she used fake documents of birth in order to marry a Catholic, that lacks information about her conversion and, what is more, the place of birth – a town in Lithuania – was false). The story of her life was not different in this respect from biographies of many other European actresses of Jewish origin, including the iconic Sarah Bernhardt.  

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