Joint project ended between YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York and three Lithuanian memory institutions


2022 01 10


YIVO Institute for Jewish Research reported today that the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections Project (EBYVOC), historical seven-year initiative worth USD 7 million has been completed.

During the project’s implementation, this material has been digitally reunited on a special internet portal and became available worldwide for the first time.

“The conclusion of this project is an important stage in the latest history of the YIVO Institute and an expression of the implementation of our main mission. It honours the heroes and martyrs who risked and lost their lives in order to protect these books and documents; also, it honours the scientists and visionaries who understand that the significance of this material is much wider than words written on a page. We are thankful for the participation of our partners in Lithuania, the tireless efforts of archivists and librarians in New York and Vilnius, and the generous donors, without whom all of this would not have been possible”, Ruth Levine, Chair of the Board of Directors of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, said.

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

“The end of this significant project also opens up a new page of the nurture of memory. It will help fill the gaps of knowledge, expand understanding of the life of the region’s Jews during the interwar period, and build strong memory connections between Vilnius and New York. The YIVO Vilnius Project is an important obligation to, first of all, Lithuania and also the entire world: each of us must draw knowledge from this emerging ocean of endless information not only due to the necessity to remember, honour and nurture. We must do so if we wish to be better ourselves and build a better world”, the Minister of Culture Simonas Kairys said.

In 1941, the Nazis ransacked the YIVO Institute in Vilnius. Many documents were destroyed and a group of Vilna Ghetto workers, most of whom were associated with the YIVO, were forced to sort the collections and select the material which had to be sent to Frankfurt and used at the Nazi Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question. In 1946, the U.S. Army recovered these documents and sent them to YIVO in New York.

These ghetto laborers, who were called the Paper Brigade, risked their lives to hide the material on their bodies and secretly transport it to Vilna Ghetto, where it was secretly hidden. This preserved material was discovered after the war, and in 1948 it was rescued once again by Soviet Lithuanian librarian Antanas Ulpys and remained hidden at the Church of St. George (converted by the Soviets into the Lithuanian Book Chamber) until it was rediscovered in 1989.

In 2017, about 170,000 additional documents were found at the National Library of Lithuania, including rare and unpublished work.

These books and documents, split apart by history and stored in New York and Vilnius, are cultural testimonies that survived the Holocaust. They comprise approximately 4.1 million pages of original books, artefacts, records, manuscripts and documents. This project is the first one of its kind in Jewish history and it is an important stage in its preservation.

This unparalleled collection provides a new perspective on the pre-war Jewish history and culture in the entire Eastern Europe and Russia. It will be useful to future generations: scientists, students and the public at large.

The original pre-war YIVO archives and library are the main sources of documents on the East European Jewish civilization, which spanned over 1,000 years. The Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections Project created the largest digital collection related to the East European Jewish civilization, including the largest collection of Yiddish language material in the world.

The collections describe how the Jews lived, where they came from, how they raised and educated their families, how they created art, literature, music, and the language itself. Moreover, these documents reveal the relationships between the Jews and their non-Jewish neighbours, show how they saw their place in the world not only from a political but also social perspective and how they faced the turmoil and challenges of the modern times.

More information about the project is available on its website.

Since 2017, the Ministry of Culture has contributed to the project’s implementation by allocating annual funds to the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania for the restoration and dissemination of the YIVO Archive’s documents as well as the research and promotion of Jewish heritage. In total, 50,000 euros were allocated in 2017–2021, which were used for exhibitions that introduce the content of the YIVO Archive, as well as lectures and educational programmes for Lithuanian and foreign audiences, and the restoration and preservation of the most damaged documents of the YIVO Archive. Publishing activities were also conducted for these funds: in 2019, a publication of poems written by the Jewish poet Avrom Sutzkever in Vilna Ghetto, Ten Poems (Tsen Lider) was published in Yiddish, Lithuanian and English; in 2021, a facsimile publication of an autobiography by a Jewish girl, Beba Epstein, was prepared and published. The latter book is planned to be presented at a joint event by the National Library of Lithuania and YIVO as well as at the Vilnius Book Fair. In 2022, the digitization of the YIVO Archive’s documents stored at the National Library of Lithuania will also be continued.

About YIVO

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is dedicated to the studies and preservation of the history and culture of East European Jews around the world. For almost a century, YIVO has been the pioneer of new forms of Jewish science, research, education, and cultural expression. YIVO’s public programmes and exhibitions as well as online and locally organised courses expand the global reach and make it possible to share its large resources. YIVO’s archives contain over 23 million unique exhibits, while YIVO’s library has more than 400,000 tomes and is the largest resource of such studies in the world.

In the photo by Thos Robinson (Getty Images):

Pinkas (Communal Record Book) of the Hevra Lomde Shas (Learners of the Talmud Society) in Lazdijai, 1836 (with permission of Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York)