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Guide to the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection, Part II: Collection of Literary and Historical Manuscripts  RG 223.2

Processed and described by YIVO archivists in the 1950s-1960s. Yiddish finding aid compiled by Itsik Gottesman in the 1980s. Collection processed and English finding aid prepared in 2009 by Shmuel Klein under a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany in New York, the Fondation pour la Memoire de la Shoah, the Memoire de la Shoah, and with the support of the USHMM in Washington DC. Collection prepared for microfilming and digitization and finding aid enhanced and expanded by Shmuel Klein and edited by Fruma Mohrer with the assistance of a grant from the Nathan Ruderman Foundation and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, New York, 2014

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
15 West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
Email: archives@yivo.cjh.org
URL: http://www.yivo.org

Copyright 2014 YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. All Rights Reserved.

EAD compatible Finding Aid created by Ettie Goldwasser and Fruma Mohrer in Archon version 3.14 in 2014.

Collection Overview

Title: Guide to the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection, Part II: Collection of Literary and Historical Manuscripts  RG 223.2

ID: RG 223.2a FA

Extent: 10.0 Linear Feet


The Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection, Part II: Collection of Literary and Historical Manuscripts contains letters, manuscripts, and historical documents which were saved by the Yiddish poets Avraham Sutzkever and Szmerke Kaczerginski in the Vilna Ghetto. Members of the conscripted Jewish workers who were forced to work under the Einsatzstab Rosenberg, the Nazi unit which plundered cultural treasures across Europe, Sutzkever and Kaczerginski saved thousands of books, manuscripts and documents at great risk to their lives and hid them in the various hiding places in the Vilna Ghetto. After the war they recovered many of the hidden items. Sutzkever sent many of these rescued materials to the YIVO Institute in New York from the period 1947 to 1956. The collection consists of 8 series and includes correspondence of writers, intellectuals, communal leaders, rabbinical figures; manuscripts of Yiddish and Hebrew writers; theater documents; folklore materials; rabbinical responsa and writings; historical and legal documents; pinkasim [communal registers] and J0ewish communal records.

The collection was microfilmed and digitized with the generous support of the Nathan Ruderman Foundation and the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The collection consists of items saved in the Vilna Ghetto by the Yiddish poets Avraham Sutzkever and Szmerke Kaczerginski and holds  c. 650 folders, arranged in eight series,  and  includes correspondence with literary, communal, political and religious figures, Yiddish and Hebrew literary manuscripts, documents of the Yiddish theater and Jewish folklore materials, historical and legal documents, rabbinic responsa and writings, pinkasim [communal registers] and other Jewish communal records.  The bulk of the materials cover the period from the 18th century through the eve of World War II. The collection includes fragments of YIVO’s prewar archival collections, as well as documents from other collections of the prewar period, such as materials from the  S. Ansky Historical and Ethnographic Society of Vilna, private papers of Matisyahu and Shmuel Strashun,  local synagogue and communal records from Vilna and outlying areas.

A multiple provenance collection, its very fragmentary nature reflects the circumstances of war and the activities of the Nazi plundering unit called the Einsatzstab Rosenberg whose pillaging resulted in the breakup and destruction of much of the YIVO Archives and other Jewish cultural treasures.  The collection is also in very poor condition because much of it was hidden underground for years and was smuggled out of Vilna into Poland in the postwar period, then into France, before being sent to New York. The collection holds documents which cover a wide range of subjects including the social, literary, political and religious life of Jews in Eastern Europe and also includes materials generated by  leading Jewish literary, political and religious figures  of the 18th through 20th century.

The value of the rescued materials can be understood only in the light of these wartime circumstances and the situation faced by Sutzkever, Kaczerginski and the members of the ‘paper brigade’ who had good reason to believe that Jewish civilization in Eastern Europe had come to an end and that the work of the Einsatzstab Rosenberg would destroy all vestiges of Jewish life. The collection reflects what aspects of Jewish culture were valuable to Jewish intellectuals in the Vilna Ghetto who needed to make quick and on-the-spot decisions about what to save.  In surveying the collection, we see that their notion of what was valuable was a broad one. They saved everything from documents relating to traditional Jewish religious life, to artifacts of modern Yiddish and Hebrew culture.  The collection also reflects the deep connection and passion these intellectuals felt for Jewish culture, folklore and history. The notes below provide additional information about the most important series in this collection.

Series 1: Correspondence with Individuals

Series I consists of 436 folders of correspondence, arranged alphabetically according to the Yiddish alphabet. The Series includes correspondence to and from a wide range of writers, scholars, communal figures and rabbinical figures. Included are a number of letters of distnguished and prominent indviduals.  The bulk of these letters were part of the original YIVO Archives in Vilna. Many of these letters bear the original YIVO stamp.  The other groups of materials in this Series include letters formerly collected by the S. Ansky Historical and Ethnographic Society in Vilna, by the family of Rabbi Shmuel Strashun and his son Matisyahu Strashun. Some of the most noteworthy individuals in this Series:  S. Ansky, ethnographer and playwriter, leader of the Ansky Ethnographic Expedition; Ber Borochov, founder of the Labor Zionist movement and early scholar of the Yiddish language  and Borochov's family; Nathan Birnbaum, advocate of the Yiddish language and organizer of the Czernowitz conference on Yiddish in 1908; Jacob Benjacob, the early bibliographer; Ignaz Bernstein, the compiler of Yiddish proverbs and bibliographer;  Rabbi Chaim Oyzer Grodziensky, spiritual head of the Jewish community of Vilna; Simon Dubnow; Jacob Dinesohn, pioneer Yiddish writer; Abraham Mapu, early Hebrew novelist; Mendele Moykher Sforim, grandfather of modern Yiddish literature; Moses Montefiore, Jewish communal leader and philanthropist in England;  Noah Prylucki, early YIVO leader and Yiddish scholar; Isaac Leib Peretz, one of the greatest classic Yiddish writers, his wife Helena, and his family; Abraham Reisen, the Yiddish poet, mostly to his brother Zalman; Zalman Reisen, a founder of YIVO and a prominent Yiddish scholar; Nachum Shtif, a founder of YIVO and a Yiddish scholar; Matisyahu Strashun, bibliographer, scholar and philanthropist in Vilna; Samuel Strashun, scholar and commentator on the Talmud; Sholem Aleichem, father of modern Yiddish literature.

One of the most significant correspondents in this Series is the early modern Hebrew writer Abraham Mapu who was born in the Kovno area to a scholarly family, and received the traditional education of the time, but was later able to learn a number of European languages on his own. He was the first Hebrew novelist of the Haskalah period, using biblical style  Hebrew, to present contemporary literary as well as early Zionist themes. He was a Hebrew teacher, and authored some teaching manuals for Hebrew and French. Mapu became a popular author and was active in the affairs of the Jewish community of Kovno.

YIVO’s  extensive archive of Mapu’s letters, mostly written  to his younger brother Matisyahu who lived in Paris, and some other relatives and friends, provides a window into the social history of the Jews of Kovno and Paris of the 1850’s and 1860’s. The letters provide insights into Mapu’s literary career, and the details of his family life and personal finances. This collection of letters came to YIVO in the early 1930’s from the descendents of Mapu’s brother through the efforts of Elias Tcherikover, one of YIVO’s founders, who was then living in Paris. The letters were then transferred to the YIVO Archives in Vilna.  The Israeli historian Ben Zion Dinur had typescript copies of these letters made for him by the YIVO staff during the 1930s, which is fortunate, because many letters did not survive the Holocaust, or survived in severely damaged condition. These copies serve as the basis for Dinur’s 1970 edition of the Mapu letters. Please note that not every letter in the Sutzkever Kaczerginski collection appears in Dinur’s edition. The letters are now in Yivo Archives RG 223 Part II, folders 37.1-43.7. [References:Dinur, Ben Zion: Mikhteve Avraham Mapu (Jerusalem, 1970). Slouzch, Nahum: Mapu’s letters inHa-Zeman, 1905. (Hebrew).]

The correspondence of the Yiddish literary figure Zalman Reisen (1887-1940?) constitutes a significant part of this Series. Reisen was a YIVO leader from its founding in 1925. He was an important Yiddish phuilogist and edited the multi-volume Reisen Lexicon of Yiddish Literature and corresponded extensively with Yiddish writers in order to compile information for his lexicon entries. Many of the letters to Zalman Reisen in this Series appear to be from the materials Reisen was accumulating for his yet unpublished fifth volume of the lexicon. This volume was never published.  Portions of similar materials for Reisen’s unpublished volume are found in the YIVO Archives, in the Collection of Yiddish Literature and Language (RG 3).

The letters to and from the Strashun Family constitute another section in this Series. Matisyahu Strashun (1817-1885) was a prominent a Talmudic Scholar, maskil, and philanthropist in Vilna. He occupied himself with the communal affairs of Vilna, serving through the years in several positions. He was one of the most important bibliophiles of his time. A catalog of his book collection, Likutei Shoshanim, including a number of manuscripts, appeared in 1889. After his death, his library became the property of the Vilna Kehilla. A large portion of this library is now housed in the YIVO Library.

The Strashun family related items include personal letters in folders 81.1-81.13. Folders 82.1-8.5 contain letters to Matisyahu’s father, Samuel Strashun (1793-1872), who was known for his commentaries on the  Talmud, printed at the end of most standard editions of the Talmud. They are still studied in contemporary Talmudic academies all over the Jewish world.

The impact of Matisyahu Strashun on the contents of the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection is greater than meets the eye. Since he was both a maskil and a serious rabbinic scholar, and was in contact with Hebrew book dealers in various countries, he was able to acquire the correspondence of several earlier well-known maskilim and prominent rabbis, as well as important manuscript items which had been in the hands of bibliophiles of previous generations. Much of the material of this nature in this collection derives from Matisyahu Strashun’s intensive collecting activity over many years. Sometimes we have his book stamp on the item to confirm his connection with the item, sometimes it can only be an educated guess. Some examples of items in this collection which probably had belonged to Matisyahu Strashun would be: folder 34a.1, a letter from the maskil Isaac Baer Levinson tp M. Strashun. Page 2 of this letter actually contains a note by M. Strashun himself. Folder 52.1 holds a letter written by Judah Eliasberg, who was M. Strashun’s business partner and relative. Folder 145.1 contains the title page of a manuscript with M. Strashun’s ink stamp. It was signed by Eliakim Carmoly (1802-1875), an avid bibliophile of the previous generation.

The correspondence of Sholem Aleichem is one of the important groups in this Series. The Sholem Aleichem letters cover the period c. 1888 – 1915. There are 52 folders of Sholem Aleichem letters and postcards, from Folder 83.1 to Folder 88.5. The bulk of them are original letters and a small number are photostatic copies which were procured by the YIVO Institute in Vilna before the war.  The letters are addressed to various individuals. Quite a number of them were written to Jacob Dinesohn. In addition, there some Sholem Aleichem letters to the writer Yecheskel Kotik and to Dr. Gershon Levine, to Sholem Aleichem's son-in-law Y.D. Berkovitz,  There is also a photostatic copy of a letter from Sholem Aleichem to Madame Theodore Herzl written days after Theodore Herzl’s death, which was acquired by YIVO in the prewar period.

Series 2: Manuscripts (Folders 95-153a)

Subseries 1: Works of Known Authors, Arranged Alphabetically

This series includes the writings of a number of well known literary and political figures. While many writers are represented in this Series, prominent in this group are writings  of  S. Ansky, Theodor Herzl, Shloime Ettinger, Joseph Perl.

This series holds fragments of the play The Dybbuk written in his own hand by S. Ansky (1863-1920).  An early Yiddish version of the play was destroyed in a fire.  According to information provided by early YIVO archivists of the 1950s and ‘60s, Hayyim Nachman Bialik, the Hebrew poet, had translated the original version of The Dybbuk into Hebrew. After the fire destroyed the early Yiddish manuscript, Ansky translated Bialik’s version into Yiddish.  The manuscript of The Dybbuk  was kept in the Ansky Historical and Ethnographic Society in Vilna until World War II and a few fragmentary pages of it were saved by Avraham Sutzkever in the Vilna Ghetto.  When writing the play The Dybbuk, Ansky was able to draw upon the folk beliefs and folklore collected during the Baron Horace Guenzburg Ethnographic Expedition which he led from 1911 to 1914.  During the expedition which was conducted in Volhynia, Podolia and Kiev Province, a great deal of ethnographic and ethnomusicological materials were collected by means of a variety of methods including interviews with the local Jewish population residing within the geographic scope of the expedition.

The series also contains the handwritten diary of the early Zionist leader Theodore Herzl.  The diary covers the years 1882-1887,  when Herzl was a young man, and contains his literary journal,  notes about the books he was reading while completing his education,  as well as personal and introspective observations.  In 1930, while on a visit to London, Zalman Reizen discovered the diary in the possession of a friend of Herzl’s son Hans, who had passed away. According to a report by Max Weinreich, after Zalman Reisen brought the diary to Vilna, YIVO decided to purchase it.  [Reference: News of the YIVO, No. 22, Sept, 1947.] According to Dr. David Fishman, who presented a lecture at the YIVO Institute on November 24, 2014,  Sutzkever found the Herzl diary among a pile of other papers at YIVO in April 1942, and buried it in a cellar at number 6 Shavel Street, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Nazis. After Vilna had been liberated by the Russians, he recovered it in late August 1944. The Herzl diary finally reached YIVO in New York City in 1947.

Folders 116.1 to 121.6 hold 28 items which originally came from Max Weinreich’s personal collection of original materials relating to the early Yiddish writer and playwright Shlomo Ettinger (1803-1856), given to Weinreich by Ettinger’s heirs, his daughter Disha and grandson Nosson Shapira of Lodz. These materials were the basis for Weinreich’s 1925 Vilna edition of Ettinger’s collected works.  During the Haskalah period, Shloime Ettinger (1803-1856)  was one of the first to write in modern literary Yiddish, and is noted for his fresh, clear style. Even though fluent in German, he was able to keep it from influencing his Yiddish writing.  His drama ‘Serkele’ was one of the earliest modern Yiddish plays. He was considered by Max Weinreich to be “the grandfather of Yiddish literature.” [ Reference: Weinreich, Max: Ale ksovim fun Dr. Sloyme Ettinger, Vilna, Ferlag Fun B. Kletzkin, 1925. In two volumes.]

Folder 123.1 of this series holds  manuscripts  by the early Yiddish writer  Joseph Perl (1773-1839) including a story entitled: "Once There Was a Very Great King," written as a satire of a similar tale by R. Nahman of Bratslav. Numerous crossings out and corrections indicate that the manuscript is the author’s autograph, as does the comparison with a facsimile of a personal letter in Perl’s own handwriting printed on the page facing p. XVI of: “The Yiddish writings of Joseph Perl”, Vilna, 1937 (Yiddish), and with the facsimiles of works in his hand, published by Shmuel Werses in Ha-Universitah, vol. 19 (March 1974), pp. 46-51.

Series 3: Theater Documents

This small series appears to have fragmentary documents from at least two original YIVO Archives collections created in Vilna during the prewar period.  These are the Esther Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum Archive and the Records of the Jewish Actors Union of Warsaw. The series has only 10 folders and includes a colorful Yiddish language memoir of an actor, Hersh Amesia, who joined Goldfaden’s troupe; an actor’s membership card; the libretto of a Yiddish operetta and an actor’s theater contract, 1909.

Series 4: Ethnographic and Folklore Materials

This series holds 27 folders and includes fragmentary materials from YIVO’s Ethnographic Committee which was modeled on the activities of the Ansky Expedition and which collected original folklore and ethnographic materials during the prewar period.  There are also fragmentary materials from the Ansky Historical and Ethnographic Society and from the Institute for Yiddish Proletarian Culture. This series includes folktales,  religious customs such as those observed on Shabbat Shira when bread crumbs are prepared for the birds, customs of mourning, customs of the Maharsha’s synagogue in Ostrog, materials about Yiddish language and philology.

Series 5:  Historical and Legal Documents (Folders 171-179)

The series, which contains 16 folders, holds historical and legal documents, such as contracts, rabbinical court decisions, judgments of the municipal/regional courts,  legislation, agreements,  property documents, and financial documents. Including are documents about the sale and transfer of synagogue seats or inheritance rights to synagogue seats, the sale or rental of a house, etc. The bulk of the series relates to the Jewish community of Vilna with several documents pertaining to the sale or transfer of synagogue seats in the Great Synagogue of Vilna.  There is also a document relating to the community of Pinczow.  Folder 179.7 is a deed of gift of a synagogue seat in the women’s section of the Great Synagogue. Under this deed, Rabbi Yechiel, son of Rabbi Avraham Danzig ( well known author of the “Chayei Adam,”)  transferred the ownership of the seat to his wife Bashka. The “Chayei Adam” was a prominent scholar and the Dayan of Vilna and a mechutan (in-law) of the Vilna Gaon.  This series is related in subject and genre to the Series 7: Pinkasim and Jewish Communal Records.

Series 6: Responsa and Other Rabbinical Writings (Folders 179a-179f)

The most significant materials are the letters to the renowned rabbinic authority Rabbi David Luria (1797-1855, known as the RaDaL), who wrote a commentary on the rabbinical work "Pirke d’Rabi Eliezer" and was also the author of many notes on the Talmud and on the Midrashim.  The letters to Rabbi Luria are significant because they reflect his recognized role as a leading scholar to whom the majority of elite scholars turned with difficult questions. The letters were included in the first finding aid to the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection of Literary and Historical Manuscripts where it was noted that letters to Rabbi Luria had been saved by Sutzkever and sent to YIVO in New York.  The series contains 33 folders.

Series 7: Pinkasim and Jewish Communal Records

This series has a range of Jewish communal records including a number of pinkasim (communal registers), among them the pinkasim of the Jewish communities of  Narovlya, Pruzhan, Skoudas, Śniadowo, Vilna, and the pinkas of the Vilna Gaon’s kloyz.

One of the most important documents in this Series throws light on the history of the Jewish communityy of Vilna is the Pinkas of theVilna Gaon's Synagogue or kloyz. The synagogue or 'kloyz' of the  Vilna Gaon was the place where the renowned sage and scholar, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman (1720–1797) prayed and studied. Founded during his lifetime in 1758, the synagogue, or "Vilna Gaon's kloyz" as it was known, continued to function after the Gaon's passing in 1797, as a prayer house and center of Torah study and remained active until the eve of World War II.  The handwritten Hebrew language Pinkas of the Vilna Gaon's Synagogue records the legal and financial transactions of the 'kloyz', includes references to the children of the Vilna Gaon and his students, and is an important original source on the history of the Jewish community of Vilna.  The Yiddish poets Avraham Sutzkever and Szmerke Kaczerginski rescued the original volume and hid it in the Vilna Ghetto. After the war, in July 1944, Sutzkever retrieved it from its underground hiding place and in 1947, while in Paris, Sutzkever sent the Pinkas of the "Vilna Gaon's kloyz" to the YIVO Institute in New York where it has been preserved for close to 7 decades.

Historical Note

The Rescue of Manuscripts and Documents by Sutzkever and Kaczerginski

The subject of this Historical Note is the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection, Part II: Collection of Literary and Historical Manuscripts which was microfilmed and digitized under a grant from the Nathan Ruderman Foundation and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany in New York.  Part I of the collection which relates to the Vilna Ghetto Archives,  has been described in a separate finding aid funded under a separate grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany in New York, the Fondation pour la Memoire de la Shoah in France, the Memorial de la Shoah, and with the support of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Information about the finding aid to Part I of the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection can be obtained by writing to archives@yivo.cjh.org.  This Historical Note also focuses on the history of the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection once it was it received by the YIVO Institute in New York.

The story of the rescue of Jewish cultural treasures in the Vilna Ghetto has been described by the historian David Fishman in his monograph ‘Embers Plucked from the Fire: The Rescue of Jewish Cultural Treasures in Vilna”  (second expanded edition, 2009).  Two lectures delivered by Dr. Fishman at the YIVO Institute, in November 2014 and in January 2015, provide additional information about Fishman’s original research on this subject. The purpose of this Historical Note is to share the story of the rescue work and to link this story to the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection currently held in the YIVO Archives.

The Sutzkever Kaczerginski collection held in the YIVO Archives holds the original manuscripts rescued by the Yiddish poets Avraham Sutzkever and Szmerke Kaczerginski in the Vilna Ghetto and sent to the YIVO Institute after the war.  The collection is named in honor of the two Yiddish poets who worked in the underground ‘paper brigade’ and smuggled more than 10,000 manuscripts, books and artifacts into the Vilna Ghetto, hiding the saved materials wherever they could, often in underground places. The members of the ‘paper brigade’ were assigned by the Nazi plundering unit, called the Einsatzstab Rosenberg, to the task of sorting through the contents of tens of thousands of books, artifacts, documents, manuscripts, letters, religious artifacts and art works. They were instructed to select the most valuable materials for transfer to Germany, where they were to be eventually become part of a museum of the ‘extinct’ Jewish people. The materials not selected by the conscripted Jewish ‘selection’ group were to be sent to the paper mills.  The sorting process took place primarily in the YIVO building which had been taken over by the Einsatzstab Rosenberg.  Determined to save valuable materials from being sent to Germany,  the ‘paper brigade’ hid manuscripts and artifacts and managed to smuggle them one by one into the Vilna Ghetto, hoping that the rescued documents would survive destruction.  As Sutzkever and Kaczerginski sifted through the books and documents in the YIVO building while working for the Einsatzstab Rosenberg, they made decisions about what they thought was precious and irreplaceable and important for posterity.

After the war Sutzkever and his colleagues painstakingly searched for and found hidden documents, books and artifacts and brought them to the new Jewish Museum of Vilna. When it became apparent that the Soviet authorities had no intention of safeguarding these materials or making them available to the public, and when it became known that portions of the documents in the Museum during the Soviet period had been removed to the paper mills for destruction, Sutzkever and Kaczerginski devised a plan to smuggle out suitcases of materials to be taken first to Poland and then to France.  From France the rescued documents were sent to the reestablished YIVO headquarters in New York. A portion of the documents were taken to Israel and sent to YIVO from Israel.  The sending of materials to YIVO by Sutzkever was carried out from 1947 to c. 1956.

The smuggling of the materials from Soviet controlled Vilna to Poland and from Poland to France was an activity fraught with its own set of risks and dangers and required for its successful accomplishment a great deal of  ingenuity and determination on Sutzkever’s and Kaczerginski’s part.  Due to the great volume of the materials to be sent to YIVO in New York and due to their great value, Sutzkever devised a wide variety of methods for shipping the documents, which included sending some of them by regular mail to Max Weinreich in New York, on occasion by air mail for very select and precious items, and from time to time by personal courier.  The details of these shipments have been researched by Dr. David Fishman and were described in his lecture at the YIVO Institute presented in January 2015.  After Sutzkever had succeeded in sending the bulk of the rescued materials to YIVO, Max Weinreich agreed that recognition of Sutzkever’s and Kaczerginski’s heroic efforts would be preserved in perpetuity by naming the entire collection in their honor.

The documents and artifacts saved in the Vilna Ghetto contained categories of materials relating to  a) The Vilna Ghetto, including diaries, reports about the Judenrat, cultural and educational and religious activities in the Ghetto  (this group of documents is described in a separate finding aid).  b) YIVO Archives documents and manuscripts held in the YIVO Institute in Vilna before the war, many of them bearing the original YIVO stamp.  c) Documents from special archival collections in Vilna, such as the  S. Ansky Historical and Ethnographic Society in Vilna.  d) Documents relating to the Strashun Library including Rabbi Shmuel Strashun and Matisyahu Strashun and documents and manuscripts collected by the Strashun family.  e) Books from the YIVO Library in Vilna and from the Strashun Library and from other Jewish libraries in Vilna

Early Efforts to Process the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection

The first finding aid to the Sutzkever Kaczerginski was compiled in the 1950s and 1960s by YIVO Archivists.  The original finding aid was divided into 2 parts: Part I: Vilna Ghetto Archives and Part II: Catalog of Documents and Books Hidden in the Vilna Ghetto.  From the 1960s through 1986, only the Vilna Ghetto portion of the collection had a detailed finding aid with assigned folder numbers.  Part II of the finding aid, the Literary and Historical Manuscripts, which is the focus of this finding aid and which was the subject of a grant from the Nathan Ruderman Foundation and the Claims Conference in New York, was titled: Catalog of Documents and Books Hidden in the Vilna Ghetto.  The ‘catalog’ provided a list of categories, such as Photographs, Letters, Manuscripts, Communal Registers (Pinkasim), Theater Documents, Folklore Materials, and Books. However, the list of documents included in each of the categories were described very generally, without any details, and there was no indication as to specific folder numbers assigned to specific documents.  In the mid 1980s, a Yiddish language folder list was compiled and specific documents were assigned folder numbers.  YIVO Archivist Itsik Gottesman created this first detailed listing, basing it very closely on the original list of materials described in the first Yiddish finding aid mentioned above.

The Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection Today

Of all the categories listed in the original Yiddish finding aid, only two categories are no longer held in the YIVO Archives’ Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection, Part II.  These are the  Photographs  and the Books. During the 1970s and 1980s the photographs were removed from the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection and placed into the YIVO Photo Archives where they were added to the existing collections of prewar photographs on Poland and Russia. The Books, listed as the last category in the original finding aid, were transferred to the YIVO Library.  The YIVO Library maintains selective lists of  books saved by Sutzkever and Kaczerginski.

YIVO Collections in Offenbach, Germany

The materials in the YIVO building selected by the Jewish intellectuals conscripted by the Einsatzstab Rosenberg were sent to Germany in several shipments in 1942 and 1943.  The YIVO materials were discovered in the Offenbach depot after the war and in 1947, under the auspices of the American army,  420 crates of YIVO books and archival materials were sent to YIVO’s newly reestablished  offices in New York.  The contents of these crates were identified, sorted and organized by YIVO Archivists and Librarians over next few decades as part of a long term and challenging YIVO project.

During  the 1970s, a major project supported by a grant from the NEH resulted in a complete reorganization of the entire YIVO Archives in accordance with the principles of provenance.  Papers and collections would no longer be dispersed throughout the Archives according to different subjects but to the extent possible documents generated by the same original creator would all remain within the same record group.  To implement this task, the entire YIVO Archives was surveyed over the course of several years and the Archives was progressively divided up in to Record Groups which were each assigned a number.  The numbers were assigned in ascending order with the earliest collections accessioned assigned the lowest numbers.

As the provenance origins of the ‘Vilna Archives’ were progressively determined under the NEH grant of the 1970s, YIVO archivists began to realize that many of the documents came from the same origin, for example from the same school in Vilna, or from the same theatrical organization, or from the same Jewish community.  The documents which had a common origin were then grouped together in separate record groups.  These included the Records of the Yivo Institute in Vilna, the  Records of the YIVO Autobiography Contest in Poland, the Esther Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum Archive, the Records of the Jewish Actors Union in Warsaw, the records of the Tarbut Teachers’ Seminary, the records of the TSYSHO Yiddish secular schools, the Papers of Eliyahu Guttmacher, the Papers of the cantor Abraham Bernstein, the Records of the Vilna Jewish Community Council, the Papers of Simon Dubnow and many others.  The documents of the Vilna Archives were assigned Record Group numbers 1 to 100, reflecting the fact that these were the earliest accessions in the YIVO Archives.

Provenance History of Documents in the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection

When Sutzkever was sending shipments of materials to YIVO over the course of almost 10 years (from 1947 to 1956),  YIVO  archivists did not know the detailed contents of the salvaged YIVO Archives which were shipped from Offenbach, Germany.  They therefore did not know that there were documents in the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection which had the same ‘origin’  (or provenance as the term is known in archival parlance) as some of the documents in the general YIVO Archives.  The reason for this common origin is that both the general YIVO Archives and the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection hold documents which originally belonged to YIVO in Vilna or which belonged to the Anksy Historical and Ethnographic Society in Vilna.

During the period in the 1970s and 1980s  when the YIVO Archives as a whole was moving forward in the direction of ‘provenance based organization,’ as described above, a small number of documents in the Sutzkever Kaczerginski collection were identified as having the same origin as certain collections in the Vilna Archives and were removed by YIVO Archivists,  and were added to a number of newly identified provenance based record groups in the general YIVO Archives. With the exception of these few documents which were removed for reasons of ‘provenance’, the rest of the Sutzkever Kaczerginski collection remained intact, as per the agreement between Max Weinreich and Avraham Sutzkever.

Examples of those few materials removed to the general YIVO Archives are a set of letters to Rabbi Eliayahu Guttmacher originally in the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection which were added to the Papers of Eliayahu Guttmacher  (Record Group 27 in the YIVO Archives) during a processing project during the 1980s; and  some letters of the Union of Jewish Writers and Journalists, which were added to the newly identified Records of the Union of Jewish Writers and Journalists. (Record Group 55  in the YIVO Archives)

Additional transfers of manuscripts from the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection to the YIVO General Archives are not contemplated at present even if provenance based links between the Sutzkever Kaczerginski collection and documents in the general YIVO Archives are discovered in the future.  The most important reason for this is that the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection  memorializes and honors the heroic work of the underground ‘paper brigade’ in the Vilna Ghetto who risked their lives to save Jewish cultural artifacts for future generations during a period of unparalleled tragedy for the Jewish people.  A second reason is that the work done during this funded project has resulted in what is now a ‘fixed’ digitized and microfilmed reproduction of the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection and a full description of the contents of the collection.  Current technology has made it possible to create ‘virtual’ links between the digitized version of the Sutzkever Kaczerginski Collection and documents of the same provenance in the general YIVO Archives , whenever it is physically impossible to effectuate a physical reunification of archival materials.

To view the video of the lecture by David Fishman on November 24, 2014 titled:  From the YIVO Archives: If Books Could Talk: The Story of Three Jewish Treasures Rescued from the Vilna Ghetto, go to: http://yivo.org/video/index.php?tid=203&aid=1369   

Avraham Sutzkever– An Overview of his Activities during World War II

Abraham Sutzkever(1913-2010) was born in Smorgon and resided in Vilna from 1921 on, where he was educated, and began his writing career. By 1933 he had become a member of the dynamic Yiddish literary group Yung-Vilne.  Sutzkever was interned in the Vilna Ghetto from June 1941 on, where he continued to write poetry dealing with the horrors of ghetto life.  He was a member of the ‘paper brigade’ and hid many historical and cultural artifacts in the Vilna Ghetto. He escaped from Nazi occupied Vilna in September 1943, and joined a group of partisans under Soviet command. After Vilna was liberated by the Russians in June 1944, he returned there for some time, uncovered some of the treasures hidden during the war and brought them to the new Jewish Museum in Vilna as described above in the early part of this Historical note.  The rest of Sutkever’s activities with regard to the documents he saved during war are described above in the main part of the Historical Note. Sutzkever  lived in Poland in 1946, moved on to Paris, and then on to Palestine in 1947.  He settled in Israel, becoming the poet laureate of Israel and receiving much acclaim for his literary achievements.  Sutzkever was the editor of the last Yiddish periodical in Israel titled Di Goldene Keyt.

Szmerke Kaczerginski (1908-1954)

Szmerke Kaczerginski was born in 1908 in Vilna.  As a young man, he was involved in The communist movement and was also a journalist. During the mid-1930s he joined the Yiddish literary group "Yung Vilne." He found himself in the Vilna ghetto during the Nazi occupation, writing poetry and songs with Holocaust themes. He was engaged in organizing cultural and educational activities in the Vilna ghetto. He worked together with Sutzkever and others to hide as much of Jewish cultural material from the Nazis as possible, and in September 1943, escaped from the Vilna ghetto to join a Soviet partisan unit together with Sutzkever. After Vilna was liberated by the Russians in June 1944, he returned there for a while, aiding in locating the cultural treasures the members of the “paper brigade” had hidden away and organizing the new Jewish Museum in Vilna, while continuing to write about his experiences as a partisan. In 1946 he moved to Łódź, then on to Paris, and in 1950 settled in Buenos Aires. He met his untimely death in a plane crash in April 1954.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions: The collection is open to qualified researchers with the permission of the YIVO Chief Archivist. Access to the collection can be obtained by writing to archives@yivo.cjh.org.

Use Restrictions: Materials in the YIVO Archives may be copyrighted. Researchers wishing to publish any verbatim quote from any documents in the YIVO Archives must obtain advance permission from the YIVO Chief Archivist by writing to archives@yivo.cjh.org

Other Note: The collection is microfilmed and digitized.  Researchers should refer to MK 552. The microfilm edition is on 3 microfilm reels.  To order hi-res copies of specific documents or to obtain an appointment to access the microfilm edition of the collection please write to: archives@yivo.cjh.org.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

Series 1: Correspondence with Individuals,
Series 2: Manuscripts (Folders 95-153a),
Series 3: Theatrical documents (Folders 154-161),
Series 4: Folklore, Ethnography, and Miscellaneous Items (Folders 162-170),
Series 5: Historical and Legal Documents (Folders 171-179),
Series 6: Responsa and other rabbinical writings (Folders 179a-179f),
Series 7: Pinkasim and Jewish communal records (Folders 180-184),
Series 8: Sheimos.  Damaged pages found in the ruins of the YIVO Ghetto,

Series 4: Folklore, Ethnography, and Miscellaneous Items (Folders 162-170)
Folder 162.1: Discussion About Going to a Rebbe for Advice
Record of a discussion between three women, on the subject of children dying at a young age, and the custom of visiting a "gutn yid" [a rabbi or holy man] for advice on how to deal with this problem. Written down by Meir Brand, Kolo, Poland, 1928. 2 pages, written in black ink. With pre-war YIVO Archives ink stamp. Yiddish.
Folder 163.1: Customs of the Maharsha's Synagogue in Ostrow and the Jewish community there
"Customs in and around the Maharsha's Synagogue in Ostrog." Submitted by M. Tolpin who was a resident of Ostrog. Tolpin writes that the YIVO Institute in Vilna should include the collecting of these types of customs as part of its institutional mission.The handwritten document includes references to Friday afternoon customs, before the Sabbath, and the tradition of the sexton of the synagogue, Reb Hershl, to take his gavel and walk through the town, knocking on every second door, and announcing that the Sabbath is coming, and that the townspeople should begin to buy food and wine for the Sabbath, and other Sabbath items. The document also includes a reference to old-time practices in the Maharsha's Synagogue of Ostrog, when the Torah is taken out of the ark for the reading, or the customs of Simchat Torah when the synagogue officials climb up on the roof and throw applies for the chidlren of the town to catch. 8 pages of long, narrow, strips of graph paper, written in violet ink. Yiddish.
Folder 164.1: Song about the Rebbe
1927 [?]
Song about a Hasidic Rebbe at his Sabbath table (communal meal), by Moishe Lerer, Chelmo.  1 long narrow page, written in ink. Yiddish.
Folder 165.1: Customs of "Nitl" [Christmas Eve]
No date
"Nitl" [Christmas Eve] customs at various locations. 5 small pages, and 1 thin strip of paper, all written in ink. Yiddish.
Folder 166.1: Children’s Song from the Town of Sanok
Children’s song concerning "parkhes" (those who suffer from scabies), sung in heder on Shabbat Hagadol [the Sabbath before Passover]. With a small cardboard printed ticket, for a free trip from "Sanok [Poland] to Egypt," referred to in the song. The ticket was mounted on a small piece of cardboard. Both items were collected by ethnographers in Sanok. This custom of children marching around on Shabbat Hagadol singing that all "parkhes" be sent to Egypt, and even providing them with tickets for the journey, is documented in Jewish folklore studies. See Itzik Gottesman, “Ale Parkhes Keyn Mitsrayim! A Shabes-Hagadol Custom in Eastern Europe,” (paper delivered at the American Jewish Studies Conference, Boston, Mass., December 19, 1989). 1 long thin page, written in black ink. Yiddish.
Folder 166.2: Segulah (Amulet)
No date
Segulah [Amulet or Talisman] against the “evil eye,” from a private collection, donated to commemorate a visit to YIVO on 12/13/1938. 1 small page; reduced size. Photostat of the original handwritten item. Hebrew.
Folder 166.3: Segulah (Amulet)
No date
Segulah (Amulet or Talisman). The text consists of 113 words of 5 Hebrew letters each, probably written in a code, surrounded by Biblical verses on all four sides. 1 small printed page, with seven vertical fold marks. Hebrew.
Folder 166.4: Book on Yiddish Folk Music
Printed Yiddish book, entitled: "Folklor-Lider, Naye Materialn-Zamlung, Band II." Prepared for publication by Z. Skuditsky, under the editorship of M. Winer. 392 pages; Moscow, Farlag Emes, 1936. Published by the "Institut far Yidisher Proletarisher Kultur" (Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture). Bottom of front page has signature of Moishe Lerer, head of YIVO during the Soviet period (see YIVO Bleter, New Series, Vol.III, pp. 14-19). The book includes studies and analyses of Yiddish folk music and folk songs, as well as examples of folk songs. Front inner cover lists 2 later Russian publications on the same topic. Recto of last page of the book (blank), lists further publications. Last 3 pages of book (blank) contain comments and references in Russian and Yiddish, the last page giving a list of Russian publications relating to "children's folklore." The book has a number of marginal notes in Yiddish, written in pencil. Found in the book were: 3 small slips of paper with Yiddish, Russian, and Polish handwriting; 5 pages of varying sizes containing Yiddish poems; 3 newspaper clippings, 1 in Russian(1940), 2 in Yiddish(1934 and 1937) on on the subject of foklore. Yiddish.
Folder 167.1: Article on Women's Folklore
No date
Article on women's folklore: customs concerning childbirth and infants. 37 lined Pages, written in black ink.  Extremely fragile; badly water-damaged and faded; some parts illegible. Page order is uncertain. Yiddish.
Folder 167.2: Folk Song
No date

Text of part of a folk song, submitted by L. Rosenzweig, Wloclowek, Poland.

1 page, written in ink. Yiddish.

Folder 167.3: Folktale about Job and Elijah the Prophet
No date
Folktale entitled: “Three Times,” about Job meeting Elijah the prophet, who suggests that he immerse himself in the “River of Fire” to be cured of his wounds. Ends with a prayer formula to the affect that, just as Job was healed, so too may so-and-so [who is reciting the prayer] be healed.The folktale was recorded by Aaron Simon Shpall, age 38, from Kremenitz, who heard it from a child in Bilzerko. On the subject of  “River of Fire” in Jewish sources, see Daniel 7:10, and the sources indicated by Louis Ginzberg, “The Legends of the Jews,” Vol. V, pages 37 and 125. 1 page. Written in pencil on graph paper. Yiddish, and Hebrew.
Folder 167.5: Scholarly Note on Yiddish Philology
No date
Scholarly note on Yiddish philology, dealing with words ending in: -or,-ntz, -ans, -in, and –ic.  1 small page, written in black ink. Yiddish.
Folder 167.6: Piyyutim (Religious Poems) for Yom Kippur.
19th cent.
Piyyutim (Religious Poems) for Yom Kippur. 2 pages of pointed text in cursive letters. Written in ink. Some fading from water. Prewar YIVO red ink inventory stamp # 1898. Hebrew.
Folder 168.1: Folktale About the Origin of the Gypsies
Folktale, on the origin of the Gypsies, translated by Shimshon Kahan from the Romani or Gypsy language. Mermaids (or "mermen"), and Moldavians are mentioned. 1 page only, written in black ink, the last of 4 small pages. With pencil drawings on the verso. Stationary has printed date of 1936. Yiddish.
Folder 169.1: Mourning Customs and Expressions
Lamentations on the deaths of close relatives, collected by Samuel Swartzberg in Lodz.  24 postcard sized slips of paper, written in ink. Yiddish.
Folder 169.2: Customs of Mourning
No date
Customs of mourning including professional women mourners. Collected by various people in various locations, including: Koil (2 items), Laszczow (7 items), Sukodol (1 item), and Warsaw (2 items). 13 pages of various sizes, written in ink. Yiddish.
Folder 169.3: Customs of Mourning
No date
Letter from Moishe Melman, with samples of expressions of mourning on the loss of relatives. 2 large pages, on lined paper, written in blue ink. With pre-war YIVO Archives acquisition stamp, and accession number 1418 of 6/21/28. Yiddish.
Folder 169.4: Customs of Mourning
Letter to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Ethnographic Committee, Vilna, from Rokhl Eizenberg, Shidlovtse (Szydlowiec), on customs of professional women "mourners". Written in response to YIVO’s questionnaire of 3/23/28. 1 page, written in black ink. With pre-war YIVO Archives acquisition stamp, and accession number 1351. Yiddish.
Folder 169.5: Customs of Mourning
Letter to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Ethnographic Committee, Vilna, from A. Sosnovik, Mior (Miyory), on the behavior of mourners. Written in response to YIVO’s questionnaire of 3/23/28. 2 large pages, written in black ink, on graph paper. Yiddish.
Folder 169.6: Customs of Shabbat Shira
Letter to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Ethnographic Committee, Vilna, from A. Sosnovik, Mior (Miyory), on the customs of Shabbat Shira (the Sabbath when the biblical “Song of the Sea,” celebrating the exodus from Egypt, is read from the Torah). The Yiddish writer Yehoas, and several scholarly publications in Yiddish are mentioned. 2 large page written in black ink on lined paper. Stamped with red ink pre-war YIVO Archives accession number 1494, entered on 6/22/28. Yiddish.
Folder 169.7: Woman’s Lamentation
Woman’s lamentation over her husband’s death. Recorded in Grodno. 2 long narrow strips of paper, written in black ink. Written on the verso of a Yiddish and Polish printed form of the Jewish Religious Community (Kehilla) of Grodno. Yiddish.
Folder 169.8: Children’s Lamentation
Children’s lamentation over their mother’s death, recorded in Grodno. 1 long narrow page, written in ink, (incomplete). Written on the verso of a Yiddish and Polish printed form of the Jewish Religious Community (Kehilla) of Grodno. Yiddish.
Folder 169.9: Customs of Mourning
Prayer of a "zogerin" [female prayer leader] at the cemetery, recited on behalf of the family. 1 page of graph paper, written in black ink (verso in pencil). Yiddish.
Folder 169.10: Professional Women Mourners
No date
Text recited by professional women mourners.1 narrow strip of graph paper, written in black ink. Yiddish
Folder 170.1: Limerick
No date
Limerick about a father and his children. 1 small strip of paper, written in black ink. Polish.
Folder 170.2: Letter About Admission of Jewish Students to a University in Paris
December, 1913
Letter from the Comité de Patronage des Étudiants Étrangers de la Faculté des Lettres de Paris. Written by a teacher (name unclear) in response to an inquiry by the father of a Russian-Jewish student in Paris. The teacher states that he knows nothing about restrictions being placed upon foreign students. His response indicates that he believes that such students are poorly prepared for these studies. Also, he feels that there are too many foreign students in the class, a situation which makes the French students feel uncomfortable. 3 pages, written in black ink. With ink-stamp of “Ansky Zamler Kreiz” for YIVO, Warsaw. French.

Browse by Series:

Series 1: Correspondence with Individuals,
Series 2: Manuscripts (Folders 95-153a),
Series 3: Theatrical documents (Folders 154-161),
Series 4: Folklore, Ethnography, and Miscellaneous Items (Folders 162-170),
Series 5: Historical and Legal Documents (Folders 171-179),
Series 6: Responsa and other rabbinical writings (Folders 179a-179f),
Series 7: Pinkasim and Jewish communal records (Folders 180-184),
Series 8: Sheimos.  Damaged pages found in the ruins of the YIVO Ghetto,
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