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Photographs Collections

Overview


Photo
A son of the Buchhalter family, which owned a photo studio in Mariampol, Lithuania, ca. 1914 (Genealogy and Family History Collection, YIVO Archives)

There are photographs scattered throughout the collections of the YIVO Archive, but a sizable proportion of them—some 150,000—are held by the Photographic Archive in specific photographic collections. The Photographic Archive is frequently consulted by publishers, filmmakers, exhibition curators, and other researchers and constitutes one of the most significant Jewish photographic collections in the world.

The Photographic Archive collects ordinary family photographs, as well as the work of acclaimed photographers. The images span many different topics and time periods relating to Jewish history and culture around the world, but are particularly notable in the following four subject areas: Jewish life in Eastern Europe; American Jewish immigration history; Yiddish theater; and the Holocaust.

For reference questions, to request an appointment to use the Photo and Film Archives, or to order reproductions, contact:
photofilm@yivo.cjh.org

Appointments must be requested at least 1 week in advance. Due to a high volume of inquiries it may take up to a week to receive a response.

Read more about Reproductions & Permissions.
View and/or download the YIVO Reproductions Price List/Access Form.

Major Collections


Jewish Life in Eastern Europe
YIVO is particularly well-known for its collection of photographs of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before World War II. Most of these photographs are to be found in the Territorial Photographic Collection (RG 120), over 49 linear feet of photographs of Jewish life around the world. The bulk of this collection is made up of images of Jewish life in Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.

About 17,000 of these pictures can be viewed on "People of A Thousand Towns," an online catalog, now online at http://yivo1000towns.cjh.org.

Also on "People of A Thousand Towns" are photographs from several other prewar collections, including the records of the Lithuanian Jewish Communities, 1844-1940 (RG 2) and the Joseph A. Rosen Papers, 1921-1938 (RG 358). Rosen was an official of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). His papers contain hundreds of photographs of Jewish agricultural settlements, institutions, schools, factories, and medical centers which were supported by the JDC in the USSR.

Photographs and other items from the YIVO Archives are featured in Swarthmore College's online exhibition, Stalin's Forgotten Zion: Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland.

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The American Jewish Immigrant Experience
The Photo Archive is a particularly rich resource of images related to the American Jewish immigrant experience. These pictures, scattered across several different collections, depict a wide range of subjects, including immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, studio portraits of American Jewish families and of prominent individuals, Yiddish theater performances, the activities of Jewish educational and social welfare organizations, trade union and political events, synagogues, and Jewish neighborhoods.

Significant collections of photographs related to American Jewish history include:

  • Territorial Photographic Collection (United States), 1860s-1970s. (RG 120)
    The more than 1,500 photographs in this collection are of mixed provenance and span a wide range of subjects. They can be accessed via an online database.
  • Educational Alliance. Records, 1888-1968. (RG 312)
    The Educational Alliance is a cultural and educational institution established in New York's Lower East Side in 1889 to promote the Americanization of Jewish immigrants. Photographs depict the Educational Alliance building and other settlement houses; summer camps; groups and clubs; vocational, English, and gym classes; individuals connected with the institution; and the Educational Alliance Art School.
  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). Records, ca. 1900-ca. 1970. (Subgroup: United HIAS Service, Main Office, New York, RG 245.8)
    HIAS is an international Jewish immigrant and refugee service founded in 1909 in New York. Photographs include scenes of Ellis Island; HIAS offices in New York; immigrants in HIAS shelters; and refugees in Europe (1920s-1950s) preparing to emigrate.
  • Jewish Agricultural Society—Baron de Hirsch Fund. Records, 1890s-1960s. (RG 651)
    The Baron de Hirsch Fund, New York, was established in 1891 by Baron Maurice de Hirsch to assist and settle East European Jewish immigrants in the United States. Its objective was to promote the development of Jewish settlements as well as trade schools. The Jewish Agricultural Society (JAS) was a subsidiary of the Fund and was chartered in New York in 1900 to provide agricultural training for East European immigrants. The JAS acquired land in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut and published The Jewish Farmer, an English and Yiddish monthly. The collection includes several hundred photographs from the files of this publication.

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Images of the Holocaust
The Photo Archives holds about 10,000 images of the Holocaust and related subjects. These pictures, scattered across several different collections, have been cataloged and can be accessed via an online database.

Topics depicted in the Holocaust photographs include:

  • Early Nazi persecution of the Jews in Germany
  • Jewish refugees before, during, and after World War II
  • German military personnel in Poland and Russia
  • Jewish life in ghettos established by the Nazis in Eastern and Western Europe, especially the ghettos of Warsaw and Lodz
  • Mass executions of Jews in eastern Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, 1941-1943
  • Deportations of Jews to death camps in Poland
  • Death camps in Poland photographed after the end of the war
  • Concentration camps in Germany and Austria
  • Anti-Nazi resistance movements in Eastern and Western Europe
  • The Nuremberg Trials in Germany, 1947

Not included in this database are most of YIVO's photographs of Jewish displaced persons camps established for Holocaust survivors by the Allies in Germany, Austria, and Italy at the conclusion of the war. Most of these can be found in Displaced Persons Camps and Centers: Photographs (RG 294.5).

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Yiddish Theater Photographs
YIVO is one of the world's preeminent sources of photographs relating to the history of Yiddish theater. Many of these photographs have been cataloged and can be accessed via an online database.

Significant Yiddish theater photograph collections include:

  • Yiddish Theater Photographs. Collection, 1890s-1960s. (RG 119)
    This collection is of mixed provenance. It consists of two series, photographs of theater productions, arranged by country, and photographs of actors, writers, and producers, arranged by name of individual.
  • Maurice Schwartz (1890-1990). Papers, 1920s-1960. (RG 498)
    Schwartz was a Ukrainian-born actor and director who immigrated to the United States in 1901. A major personality of the Yiddish theater, he founded the Yiddish Art Theater (New York) in 1918. Until 1950, Schwartz and his company toured North and South America, Europe, Israel, and South Africa. His repertoire included Yiddish plays by I.J. Singer, Jacob Gordin, Abraham Goldfaden, and Sholem Aleichem, as well as adaptations of works by playwrights such as Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, and Maxim Gorki. Photographs depict productions of the Yiddish Art Theater (and those of other Yiddish theater ensembles) and individuals associated with Yiddish theater.
  • Esther-Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum. Collection, ca. 1900-1939. (RG 8)
    This collectionrepresents the remnants of the Yiddish theater museum established by YIVO in Vilna in 1927, formed from an initial donation of the papers of Esther-Rachel Kaminska, who was known as the "mother" of Yiddish theater. The collection includes handwritten manuscripts, playbills, posters, correspondence, clippings, and photographs relating to Jewish theater in Poland and other countries before World War II.
  • It also includes the personal papers of actors, writers, and other individuals associated with the Yiddish theater include many photographs of note.
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Portraits of Prominent Individuals
The Photo Archives holds many portraits and candid photographs of individuals noted for their contributions to Jewish life, including writers, scholars, historians, scientists, philosophers, community leaders, rabbinical figures, political leaders, musicians, and cantors. Many of these pictures can be found in the following collections:

  • Photographs of Personalities. Collection, 1880s-1970s (RG 121)
  • Photographs (Vilna Archives). Collection, 1910s-1930s (RG 9)
  • Day-Morning Journal. Records, 1922-1972 (RG 639)
  • I.L. Peretz Yiddish Writers Union. Records, 1903-1970s (RG 701)
  • Yiddish Theater Photographs. Collection, 1890s-1960s (RG 119)

Researchers should may also consult the photographs of the Bund Archives (RG 1400), which include many pictures of political activists and Yiddish writers.

Postcards
Mass-produced picture postcards can be found in many YIVO Archives collections. The Archives, however, maintains a special collection devoted to this type of artifact, Postcards and Greeting Cards, 1910s-1960s (RG 122). Included in this collection are rare postcards with art reproductions, photographic images, and poetic texts; as well as cards depicting folklore and religious themes, such as the Jewish New Year. The postcards have been cataloged and can be accessed via an online database.

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YIVO Slide Bank


The YIVO Slide Bank is a division of the Photographic Archive. The Slide Bank consists of slide reproductions of images from books and original photographs from the YIVO Library and Archives, accessible through a card catalog. Slides (up to 50 at a time) may be rented for four weeks for a fee of $25.00.

Links to Online Jewish Photo Collections


People of a Thousand Towns: The Online Catalog of Photographs of Jewish Life in Prewar Eastern Europe
17,000 photographs from the YIVO Archives.
http://yivo1000towns.cjh.org

Bagnowka

Center for Jewish History Digital Collections

Ghetto Fighters House Archives

Israel Government Press Office - National Photo Collection
50,000 photographs related to the history of the State of Israel.

Jewish Women's Archive
500 searchable images.

Judaica Europeana

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Thousands of Holocaust-related photographs from many different sources.

Witness to Jewish History
Pictures and family histories collected by Centropa.

Yad Vashem Photo Archives