In 1941 the Nazis destroyed the headquarters of the YIVO Yiddish research institute in Vilna, Lithuania, ransacking the library and archives. Some material was sent to Frankfurt, Germany, to serve as the basis for the Third Reich’s Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question, and some was hidden in Vilna.
After World War II U.S. soldiers discovered the seized artifacts in a train depot in Offenbach, Germany; a Lithuanian librarian in Vilna saved documents under her care from the communist government, hidden in a church basement.
In 1989, after communism fell, all the items returned to YIVO hands. Today they’re being preserved in digital form.
As part of seven-year project, YIVO is digitizing some 10,000 rare or unique publications as well as some 1.5 million assorted literary works, memoirs, theater posters, photographs, newspapers, political tracts and pamphlets.
An archivist at the Lithuanian Central State Archive in Vilna, above, prepares some YIVO documents for digitizing.
The $5.25 million project is funded by a combination of public and private foundations and government grants.
“It will transform the historiography of Eastern European and Russian Jewish history by giving scholars and the general public access to little-known and often completely unknown documents and books,” said Jonathan Brent, YIVO’s executive director. “I am grateful to our Lithuanian partners and the Lithuanian government for enabling us to have access to materials that have been hidden from public view for almost 75 years.”