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Collection Guide: YIVO Digital Assets

A comprehensive overview of the digital assets of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

Women in a nursing course sponsored by OZE, Kaunas, Lithuania, 1930s. RG 120. YIVO

About This Guide

This guide gives a comprehensive overview of the digital assets of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. It is meant to supplement existing Center for Jewish History resources, including CJH Guide: Archival Research at the Center. Thousands of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research materials are available through CJH's online search.

Check back periodically, as YIVO is in the process of digitizing millions of archival and library materials, as well as developing digital educational resources. This guide will be updated as YIVO's digital collections grow.

About YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research was founded by scholars and intellectuals in Vilna, Poland, in 1925 to document and study Jewish life in all its aspects: language, history, religion, folkways, and material culture. YIVO had a special focus on the Jews of Eastern Europe, but collected books, manuscripts and other artifacts from Jewish communities around the world. World War II and the Holocaust forced YIVO’s relocation to New York in 1940. Its collections in Vilna were looted by the Nazis. With the help of the U.S. Army, YIVO was able to recover some of these materials and begin its work anew in America.

Today, YIVO’s collections are the primary source of the documentary history of East European Jewry and the surviving record of millions of lives of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. YIVO brings treasures from its library and archives to broad audiences via a rich array of programs, including lectures, concerts, and exhibitions; adult education and Yiddish-language programs and courses; books and scholarly publications; and fellowships for scholars.

YIVO Archives

The purpose of the YIVO Archives is to identify, acquire, preserve, and make accessible historically significant documents and other materials which reflect the Archives’ origins and development and enhance the Archives’ unique areas of expertise in documenting Jewish life. 

The YIVO Archives contains 23 million records in 12 languages. The 2,500 collections that make up the YIVO Archives include manuscripts, letters, printed ephemera, sheet music, posters, artworks and artifacts, photographs, film and videos, and sound recordings. These collections, which together represent the single largest and most comprehensive repository of materials on East European Jewish civilization in the world, focus on a number of important areas including Jewish history, language, literature, and culture in Eastern Europe; World War II and the Holocaust; Jewish educational, political, and labor organizations; and Jewish immigration to the United States, Israel, and other countries in the Diaspora.

The YIVO Archives has a responsibility to the academic community and to the public to provide access to our holdings in order to facilitate new research, inspire interest in the history and culture of Eastern European Jewry, and expand scholarship, projects, and programs which enrich our understanding of this history and culture.

The Archives provides appropriate facilities for the retention, preservation, and servicing of its holdings and is committed to creating an open-access, user-centered research experience for all patrons who wish to use our materials regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, social and academic status, or religious affiliation.

The YIVO Archives is dedicated to connecting and partnering with other cultural organizations whose materials complement our own and to building new tools that allow worldwide access to our unique holdings.

YIVO Library

The YIVO Library is the world’s only academic library specializing in the history, languages, literature, culture, folklore, and religious traditions of East European Jewry. It contains nearly 400,000 volumes of books and periodical editions. (Manuscripts and other special collections are held by the YIVO Archives.) Approximately 40,000 volumes are in Yiddish, making the YIVO Library the largest collection of Yiddish-language works in the world.

The Library includes:

  • Collections of literature in Yiddish, Hebrew, and other languages
  • Yizkor (memorial) books from destroyed Jewish communities
  • Rabbinic books
  • Works on Zionism and Jewish social movements and contemporary Jewish studies
  • The private collections of famous Jewish scholars, writers and cultural activists, such as Chaim Zhitlowsky, Elias Tcherikover, Max Weinreich, Kalman Marmor, Shmuel Niger, Sholem Perlmutter, and Chaim Grade

The YIVO Library includes books and periodicals from its prewar collections in Vilna, which were confiscated by the Nazis during the Holocaust, later found in Germany after the war, and eventually sent to the New York YIVO in 1947. The library also holds treasures rescued by the so-called “Paper Brigade,” Jews who risked their lives to hide books and documents inside and outside the Vilna ghetto, thus saving them from Nazi pillage. 

Best described as a "collection of collections," the YIVO Library has been built through the amalgamation of a number of private and institutional libraries. Shortly before the transfer of YIVO's headquarters to New York in 1940, the Central Jewish Library and Archives (CJLA), a repository of American Yiddish materials which had been founded in New York in 1938, was amalgamated with the American branch of YIVO. The CJLA included the Winchevsky Collection of Jewish labor history and Yiddish literature. By the end of the war, the growing YIVO library in New York acquired the library of the Chicago Yiddish publisher M. Ceshinsky and of the Yiddish theoretician Chaim Zhitlowsky. The Tcherikower Collection of Jewish history, hidden in France during the war, was acquired in 1946. Since then, YIVO has continued to acquire private libraries.

Thanks to these varied collections, the YIVO Library is especially strong in Yiddish literature, theater, Yiddish linguistics and lexicography, and historical writings, including many books and serials found in no other research library in the world.