The YIVO Vilna Project

East European Jewish Archive and Library Saved from the Destruction of the Holocaust to be Reunited After 70 Years

Sep 22, 2014, 20:00 ET from YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

VILNIUS, Lithuania, Sept. 22, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is pleased to announce the launch of The Vilna Project, a seven-year international project to preserve, digitize and virtually reunite YIVO's prewar archives located in New York City and Vilnius, Lithuania, through a dedicated web portal. The Project will also digitally reconstruct the historic Strashun Library of Vilna, one of the great prewar libraries in Europe. Project partners are The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, The Central State Archives of Lithuania and the National Library of Lithuania.

In 1941, the Nazis destroyed YIVO in Vilna and ransacked the archives and library. A portion of YIVO's archives was sent to Frankfurt to become the basis of the Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question; another part was hidden in Vilna; another part was destroyed. In 1946, the U.S. Army discovered the seized YIVO materials in the train depot in Offenbach, Germany and returned them to YIVO. The part that remained in Vilna was saved from the Soviets by a Lithuanian librarian, Antanas Ulpis, and remained hidden in the basement of a church until 1989. This Project will digitally reunite the two halves of the YIVO collection.

YIVO's original prewar archives and library are the preeminent source of documentation on the subject of East European Jewish civilization, which spanned over 1,000 years. The majority of this unique collection has not been conserved, preserved and digitized, and remains at risk of deterioration and loss. The YIVO Vilna Project will create the single largest digital collection related to East European Jewish civilization, including the largest collection of Yiddish language materials in the world. The Project's primary objective is to ensure the collections' survival and public accessibility.

The collections tell us how Jews lived, where they came from, how they raised and educated their families, how they created art, literature, music and language itself. Furthermore, these documents reveal the relations between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors, how they understood their place in the world both politically and socially and how they faced the turmoil and promise of modernity. The true story of Jewish life in Eastern Europe and Russia has not yet been written. These unique, original materials will enable us to do so.

The Project encompasses some 10,000 rare or unique publications and approximately 1.5 million documents, including literary works, letters, memoirs, theater posters, photographs, rare books, pamphlets, newspapers, political tracts, religious treatises, and communal records. 

Total project costs are estimated at $5.25 million. Funding is currently being sought by a combination of public and private foundations, individuals and government sources. The Project timeline is five years in Vilnius and seven years in New York. Project commencement date is January 2015.

"The Vilna Project is a unique international undertaking of cultural and historical reclamation. It will transform the historiography of Eastern European and Russian Jewish history by giving scholars and the general public access to little known and often completely unknown documents and books," said YIVO Executive Director Jonathan Brent. "I am grateful to our Lithuanian partners and the Lithuanian government for enabling us to have access to materials that have been hidden from public view for almost 75 years."

ABOUT YIVO: Founded in 1925, the YIVO Institute is headquartered in New York City, and is the world's premier teaching and research institute devoted to East European Jewish Studies with specializations in the Yiddish language, literature and folklore; the Holocaust; and the American Jewish experience. www.yivo.org

SOURCE YIVO Institute for Jewish Research



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