There are two parts to the story about the Forverts/Forward archive: a legend and a dream.
The legend is that in 1974, the Forward Association sold its iconic building on East Broadway, the one that had been built for them in 1912. Adorned with bas relief sculptures of Marx and Engels, the 10-story building had briefly towered over a neighborhood then known as Yiddish newspaper row. But by the mid-1970s, the Forverts building towered over no one and Yiddish newspaper row was long gone. The building was bought by a Chinese family, part of subsequent waves of Chinese immigration that transformed the Lower East Side.
As the newspaper prepared to move to its new home at 45 East 33rd St., it kept some of its archival material, but a good part of 62 years of accumulated papers, photos, and other ephemera were placed carefully in a dumpster, to be hauled away as garbage.
Somehow, word about what was happening made its way to the Bund headquarters on the Upper East Side, and Bund archivist Hillel Kempinski. Kempinski sprang into action, salvaging whatever he could of the discarded Forverts items. He brought them to YIVO, the most important archive of Yiddish-speaking Jews, then also located on the Upper East Side. You can still identify if a photo in YIVO’s archive was rescued from the Forverts dumpster by the characteristic newspaper pencil and crop marks on it.
If this story sounds sort of familiar, it’s not because you’ve heard it, but because you’ve heard one very nearly like it. Rescuing Yiddish books from dumpsters was at the core of the Yiddish Book Center’s mission for decades and earned founder Aaron Lansky a MacArthur fellowship. He wrote a whole book about it called Outwitting History.