January 24, 2022

Digital Collections: “From the Reverent to the Raunchy, YIVO’s Vast Archives of Yiddish Life Are Reunited Online”

From the JTA:

Before World War II, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, founded in Vilna (now Vilnius), Lithuania, collected millions of documents and hundreds of thousands of rare books. The Nazis, not satisfied with their war on Jewish bodies, also plundered their past, stealing documents for a planned museum of the vanquished Jewish race in Frankfurt and condemning the rest to destruction.

Before World War II, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, founded in Vilna (now Vilnius), Lithuania, collected millions of documents and hundreds of thousands of rare books. The Nazis, not satisfied with their war on Jewish bodies, also plundered their past, stealing documents for a planned museum of the vanquished Jewish race in Frankfurt and condemning the rest to destruction.

Like a family divided by the war, the collections found homes in two countries — Lithuania and the U.S. And like a child in a divorce, the Lithuanian trove was subject to a lengthy custody battle between YIVO and the Lithuanian government. The dispute was resolved amicably only in 2014, with a solution made possible only by modern technology: the digitization of all the millions of materials, uniting them online if not under the same roof.

This month marks the completion of the historic project, the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections, named for its lead donor. Professional and amateur researchers are able to access the entirety of the YIVO archive of 4 million documents, which are in Yiddish as well as dozens of other languages. The materials reflect the religious and cultural diversity of Yiddishland, from theater posters and youthful memoirs to illuminated synagogue ledgers and rare music scores.

The result, says Jonathan Brent, executive director and CEO of YIVO, is a “reawakening of YIVO’s historic mission, an important (and successful) experiment in international cultural activity, and an irreversible marker of YIVO’s future as a leading global Jewish institution.”

In a Zoom call, the New York Jewish Week spoke to Brent and Stefanie Halpern, director of the YIVO Archives, about the diverse collection, the efforts that made the reunion possible and the ways a new generation of scholars and regular folk can use the archives to expand their understanding and appreciation of a vast and endlessly surprising Jewish past.

Read the Complete Interview (about 2270 words)

Direct to the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections

See Also: Additional Coverage From The NY Times: YIVO Institute Makes Archives of Yiddish Life Available Online

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) 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 Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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