Image 10 January 2022

Joint project implemented by YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York and three Lithuanian memory institutions draws to a close

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York has announced the completion of the Edward Blank Vilna Collections Project, a landmark seven-year 7-million-dollar initiative aimed at processing, preserving, and digitally reuniting YIVO’s pre-war library and archival collections. During the project, these materials were digitally integrated into a dedicated web portal and made available online for the global audience for the first time.

“The completion of this project is an important milestone in the recent history of the YIVO Institute and an expression of our core mission. The project honours the heroes and martyrs who risked or lost their lives while saving these books and documents from destruction, and also honours scientists and visionaries who understand that the importance of this material far transcends the words written on these pages. We are grateful to our partners in Lithuania for their involvement and to the archivists and librarians both in New York and Vilnius for their tireless efforts as well as to the generous sponsors without whom all this would never have been possible,” said Ruth Levine, Chair of the YIVO Board of Directors.

This project is an international partnership between the YIVO Institute in New York and three Lithuanian institutions: the Lithuanian Central State Archives, the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania and the Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences.

“The completion of this landmark project also marks a new chapter in the preservation of memory. It will help fill gaps in our existing knowledge, shed light on the pre-war life of Jews in the region, and build strong memory links between Vilnius and New York. The YIVO Vilna Project is an important commitment both for Lithuania and for the world: we all should draw knowledge from this extensive pool of information not only because of the need to remember, respect and foster it but also because in doing so we will be able to better ourselves and make the world a better place,” said Minister of Culture Simonas Kairys.

Summarizing the results of the project, the Director General of the National Library Prof. Dr. Renaldas Gudauskas pointed out that: “The cooperation between the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York in a joint project aimed at digitizing the documentary heritage of Lithuanian Jews is a very important focused effort enabling the global and Lithuanian community to gain a more comprehensive insight into the history and culture of the nation which has been an integral part of Lithuania for centuries. The archives, which have been made available to the public, open up new possibilities for exploration and research, and their results provide a more accurate understanding of Lithuanian history, offer new knowledge and provide a fuller picture of global Jewish history.”

The books and documents digitized during the project which had been scattered as a result of particular historical circumstances but preserved in New York and Vilnius are cultural testimonies that survived the Holocaust. These include around 4.1 million pages of original books, records, manuscripts, and documents. This project is the first of its kind in Jewish history. This unparalleled collection sheds new light on the pre-war history and culture of Eastern European and Russian Jews, and it will benefit future generations of scholars, students, and members of the general public.

The original YIVO’s pre-war library and archival collections are the most important source of documents on the East European Jewish civilization spanning over one millennium. The Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Collections Project created the largest digital collection of materials related to East European Jewish civilization and the largest collection of Yiddish-language materials in the world.

The documents contained in the collection tell us how Jews lived, where they came from, how they raised and educated their families, how they created art, literature, music and language itself. Furthermore, these documents reveal the relations between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbours, how they understood their place in the world both politically and socially and how they faced the turmoil and challenges of modernity.

For more information about the project, visit the project’s website.

Since 2017 the Ministry of Culture contributed to the implementation of the project by annually allocating funds to the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania for the restoration and dissemination of YIVO’s archival documents as well as for researching and raising awareness of Jewish heritage. In the period from 2017 to 2021, 50,000 euros were allocated for holding exhibitions presenting the materials from the YIVO’s archives, organising lectures and educational programs for Lithuanian and foreign audiences, as well as for the restoration and conservation of the most damaged YIVO’s archival documents. These funds were also used to carry out publishing activities including the publication of Ten Poems (Tsen Lider), a collection of poems written in the Vilna Ghetto by Jewish poet Avrom Suckever which was published in Yiddish, Lithuanian and English; and the preparation and publication (2021) of the handwritten autobiography of Jewish girl Beba Epstein. The latter book is set to be presented during a joint event to be organised by the National Library and the YIVO Institute and at the Vilnius Book Fair this year.

The digitization of YIVO’s archival documents held by the National Library of Lithuania will also continue into 2022.

About the YIVO Institute

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is dedicated to the preservation and study of the history and culture of East European Jewry worldwide. For nearly a century, YIVO has pioneered new forms of Jewish scholarship, research, education, and cultural expression YIVO’s public programs and exhibitions, as well as online and on-site courses, extend its global outreach and enable it to share its vast resources. The YIVO Archives contain more than 23 million unique items and YIVO’s Library has over 400,000 volumes – the single largest resource for such study in the world.

Photo by Thos Robinson (Getty Images): Pinkas (Communal Record Book) of the Hevra Lomde Shas (Learners of the Talmud Society) in Lazdijai, 1836 (the Judaica Collection of Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania).