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YIVO in the United States

1940s-1980s


In 1947, with the help of the U.S. Army, YIVO managed to recover some of the materials the Nazis had confiscated in Vilna and shipped to Germany. A few other items were smuggled out of Vilna to New York by Abraham Sutzkever, Szmerke Kaczerginski, and other Paper Brigade survivors who had returned to Vilna after the war. As the Soviets began an intensive crackdown on Jewish culture in the late 1940s, however, these activists fled Eastern Europe. Later, it was rumored that the remnants of the YIVO collections left behind had been destroyed by the authorities.

While the materials recovered by YIVO in Germany represented only a fraction of its prewar archives and library, they served as the basis for rebuilding YIVO in the United States. The Institute continued to collect books, journals, documents, photographs, films, and other artifacts. By the late 1980s, the YIVO library held about 320,000 books and periodicals, and the Archives estimated its holdings at 22 million items. Today, YIVO remains the foremost collection of materials related to East European Jewish history and culture and Yiddish language and literature. The Library and Archives also have important collections related to the Holocaust and American Jewish history.

Even during the war, YIVO in New York had managed to carry on as much of its prewar scholarly endeavors as possible. YIVO began publishing Yidishe shprakh (Yiddish Language), a Yiddish linguistics journal in 1941, and in 1944 mounted an exhibition, Pictures of Jewish Life in Prewar Poland, the first public show of photographer Roman Vishniac's work.

Over the next few decades, YIVO continued to publish important scholarly works. It revived YIVO-bleter, its Yiddish-language scholarly journal, and began to issue the English-language YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science. In 1949, it published Uriel Weinreich's College Yiddish, a textbook that is still in use in many university-level Yiddish courses. Publication of additional resources for the study of Yiddish followed. (Click here for YIVO's list of available publications.)

YIVO held yearly scholarly conferences. Hundreds of students passed through its intensive summer Yiddish program, the Uriel Weinreich Program in Yiddish, Language, Literature and Culture, and the graduate seminars of its Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Studies.

In keeping with Vilna YIVO's original mission to serve as a cultural resource for the Jewish people, New York YIVO initiated many public programs, some of which were aimed at non-scholarly audiences. It mounted exhibitions, co-sponsored the First New York Yiddish Film Festival in 1977, produced a documentary film, Image Before My Eyes, in 1981, and inaugurated a Yiddish folk arts program with workshops in Yiddish music, dance, and folk art in 1985.

In 1989, YIVO received dramatic news—some of the archival materials long thought destroyed by the Nazis and Soviets had been hidden by idealistic librarians in a back room of the Lithuanian National Book Chamber.

1990-2002


A short time later, YIVO began negotiations with the Lithuanian government to recover its long-lost archives. Finally, in 1994, an agreement was signed, and later that year, the first of what were to be several shipments of documents arrived in New York, where the materials were cataloged and microfilmed by YIVO archivists and preservation experts.

In 1999, YIVO moved into its fifth American home, the Center for Jewish History, at 15 West 16th Street in New York City, where it shares a reading room, a state-of-the-art auditorium, and exhibition galleries with five other organizations. The new facility has made possible a greatly expanded program of cultural and educational events, including symposia and concerts.

Since its move to the Center, YIVO has embarked on a number of new initiatives designed to create greater access to its resources, including ongoing digitization of its collections and the digitization of its library catalog. A milestone in this area was reached in early 2013, with the launch of an online Guide to the YIVO Archives. In 2008, YIVO and Yale University Press published a major reference work, the two-volume The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, which became available online two years later.

YIVO has continued actively collecting library and archival materials. In 2013, YIVO and the National Library of Israel jointly acquired the estate of the late Yiddish writer, Chaim Grade.

YIVO continues to look to both the past and the future for inspiration in carrying out its mission of preserving and fostering the study of East European Jewish history and culture.

As historian and YIVO founder Simon Dubnow urged at the turn of the 19th century,

"I appeal to all educated readers...to the old and the young...come join the camp of the builders of history!"

Become a builder of history and a part of YIVO's history by becoming a member of YIVO today!