May 24, 2022

Digitization Projects: YIVO Beginning Seven Year Project to Digitize Pre-War Archive

From The Jewish Week:

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research announced last week the launch of the Vilna Project, a seven-year international project to digitize YIVO’s pre-war archives online. Though ransacked by the Nazis in 1941, the YIVO archives still possess the largest collection of materials on the thousand-year history of Jewish life in Eastern Europe and Russia.


The Vilna 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, according to YIVO’s press release.

Another similar project is Sefaria, which seeks to make all of Judaism’s sacred texts accessible and open-source. That effort, announced last year, would be modeled on Wikipedia, although scholars would replace laypeople as the editors.

“Accessibility is key,” said [Roberta] Newman, [director of digital initiatives for the YIVO Institute]. “Through the online portal, these resources will be accessible like never before.”

Additional Info Direct From the YIVO Institute:

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.


Total project costs are estimated at $5.25 million. Funding is currently being sought from 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.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.