Chronicle of pre-war Litvak life: Vilnius Jewish archive made available online

Parts of YIVO archives discovered by US army in Frankfurt

Lithuania’s Central State Archives said that over 50,000 pages had been digitized last year, in addition to over 30,000 pages this year from the Jewish research institute YIVO which operated in Vilnius before World War Two. The institute researched Jewish life in Eastern Europe and had amassed a big archive, parts of which were moved to Germany during the war and later to New York.

The digitization project is a cooperation of the US-based YIVO Jewish research institute, the Lithuanian Central State Archives and the Lithuanian National Library of Martynas Mažvydas. The Ministry of Culture said earlier this month that €30,000 would be granted to the digitization project in 2017.

During its operations in Vilnius between 1925 and World War Two, the YIVO institute researched the lives of Jews across Eastern Europe from Germany to Russia, from the Baltic states to the Balkans. It collected Jewish folklore, memoirs, books and publications, documents of Jewish communities, published dictionaries, brochures and monographs. Dating back to the 1600s, the majority of the documents were written in Yiddish and Hebrew.

After occupying Vilnius in 1941, the Nazis destroyed the institute and took some of the archive’s books to Frankfurt. The US army discovered the materials in 1946 and moved them to New York, which already accommodated the YIVO institute at the time.

After World War Two, parts of the archives that still existed in the ruins of the Jewish ghetto was targeted by the Soviets conducting the Stalin campaign against the Jews. The unique documents were rescued by Lithuanian librarian Antanas Ulpis who hid the documents in the St. George’s Church in Vilnius. The books and documents again saw daylight during Lithuania’s independence efforts in the 1990s.

Currently, documents from the archives are being digitized in Vilnius and New York. Once the seven-year project is complete, the documents scattered by the Holocaust should be brought together in a digital library, with descriptions provided in English and Lithuanian.

More than 90% of Lithuania’s pre-war Jewish population of over 200,000 were annihilated during the Holocaust. Lithuania’s current Jewish population counts about 3,000 individuals.

Ramojus Kraujelis, senior archives specialist of Lithuania, has said that a delegation of YIVO project supporters would come to Vilnius in June.

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