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Guide to the Records of Hevrah Mefitsei Haskalah Society (Vilna) 1868-1933 bulk 1909-1919 RG 22

Processed by Felicia Figa, Vital Zajka and YIVO Staff with the assistance of a grant from the Gruss Lilpper Family Foundation and the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Processing, conservation, preparation for digitization and digitization of this collection was done as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Collections Project, with the assistance of grants from the Edward Blank Family Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, the Righteous Persons Foundation, the Conference for Jewish Material Claims against Germany, the Kronhill Pletka Foundation and the Ruth and David Levine Charitable Fund, and anonymous supporters.

Note to researchers: This collection is currently closed in preparation for the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Collections Project.

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

Collection Overview

Title: Guide to the Records of Hevrah Mefitsei Haskalah Society (Vilna) 1868-1933 bulk 1909-1919 RG 22

Predominant Dates:bulk 1909-1919

ID: RG 22 FA

Extent: 1.8 Linear Feet

Arrangement: The records are subdivided into four Series. The order of the original files was changed, and some materials segregated into separate folders. The old finding aid no longer reflects the existing folder arrangement. Folders are arranged in alpabetical and chronological order in accordance with the structural composition of the organization.

Languages: Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew


The collection contains the records of the Vilna branch of the Hevrah Mefitsei Haskalah, an educational and publishing organization, established in 1863 to propagate secular knowledge and acculturation into the Russian society among the Jews of the Pale of Settlement. The Vilna Branch was organized in 1909 to assist Jewish education in Vilna and vicinity. During World War I and after Vilna became a part of independent Poland, the organization continued to propagate secular education and maintain schools, libraries and teachers’ courses. The materials include minutes, correspondence, memoranda, programs, leaflets, announcements, and clippings.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The Hevrah Mefitsei Haskalah Society (Vilna) files contain documentation related to creation of the Vilna Branch, including drafts of bylaws and correspondence with the head office in St. Petersburg; minutes of general meetings of Vilna OPE, the Executive Committee (Komitet) and of the Special Commissions (Komissii), membership lists, correspondence, reports, printed announcements and invitations, school curricula, and students’ report cards. The bulk of material is in Russian and Yiddish, with considerable number of documents in German from the time of the German occupation of Vilna during World War I (September 1915-November 1918). Some documents are in Polish and Belarusian. The collection materials date from 1868 to 1933, with the bulk dates from 1909 to 1919.

Previously a number of documents from the post-World War I period, related to the Boys’ School of OPE, were separated from the other Boys’ School materials of RG 22 and permanently moved to the TSYSHO-Vilna collection (RG 48). Some materials, in turn, were extracted from the TSYSHO-Vilna (RG 48) and Vilna collection (RG 29) and added to the Hevra Mefitsei Haskalah Society collection.

Among the materials of the collection are letters from such prominent figures of the Yiddish culture as Shlomo An-sky (An-ski, Rapoport), Israel Zinberg, and of the outstanding communal and cultural leader doctor Zemach Szabad. Minutes of the general meetings of Vilna OPE have wealth of information on the planning and functioning of the organization as a whole, on its strategic goals and setting the trends in the field of Jewish culture and education, and minutes of the Commissions present details on the everyday work in particular fields of the Vilna OPE activities.

Historical Note

The Hevrah Mefitsei Haskalah Society ( חברת מפיצי השכלה , Общество для распространенія просвѣщенія между евреями в Россіи-ОПЕ, Society for the Promotion of Culture Among the Jews of Russia, OPE), was an association founded in 1863 in St. Petersburg by several wealthy entrepreneurs as a means to modernize Russian Jews, educate them in secular subjects, including the Russian language, and enable them to attend Russian schools. First focusing on acculturation of Jews in the Russian society , the Society started to be interested in education somewhat later, and only at the end of the 19th century did the Society begin to see the development of the Jewish education and support of Jewish-related topics for Jewish students in regular educational institutions as one of its main goals. Among the honorary members of the Society were industrialists like Leo Brodsky, scholars like Daniel Khvolson, Ovsei Steinberg, and a number of progressive Russian cultural figures such as the feminist Anna Filosofova, writers Vladimir Korolenko and Konstantin Arseniev, art critic Vladimir Stasov, and historian Mikhail Stasiulevich.

The Vilna branch of the Society was created in May 1909, after amendments to the Hevrah Mefitsei Haskalah Society’s statute and changes in the Russian laws that eased creation of local structures. The branch was created by a group of Vilna Jewish intelligentsia, preoccupied with the development of the Jewish culture and education among the Jews of Lithuania and Belarus but legally limited to the confines of the Vilna area. Its stated purpose was to maintain schools and provide support for cultural activities such as lectures, conferences and concerts. From the beginning the Executive Committee made efforts to get approval of the Russian administration for all kinds of teachers courses, and the Pedagogical and School Commissions worked on programs for teachers in order to prepare an adequate cadre of teachers for the development of Jewish primary education. All efforts to actually open the courses were thwarted by the Russian imperial bureaucracy. The same fate was awaiting the projects of opening Jewish schools in Vilna. In fact the first OPE Jewish school, the Public School (Folks-shul) for Boys, was opened only after the German occupation of Vilna in September 1915. Later, as the Education Committee of the HMH was re-organized into the Tsentraler Bildungs Komitet (Central Education Committee, TsBK) in 1919-1921 as part of the all-Poland system of Yiddish secular schools, the Boys School was operating under the auspices of the TsBK.

The Vilna Branch of HMH functioned as an autonomous body within the national Hevrah Mefitsei Haskalah Society, receiving yearly subventions and grants for particular projects from the HMH central office in St. Petersburg. As a membership society it also was supported by membership fees. The Vilna Branch was governed by the Committee, which was an executive organ of the organization. Among the members of the Committee were such outstanding community members as doctor Zemach (Tsemakh) Shabad (1864-1935; chairman of OPE, later one of co-founders of YIVO), school owner Peysakh Kagan (vice chairman and secretary of OPE), dentist Isaac Michelson (treasurer of OPE) , teacher Rafael Rein, merchant Solomon Eliashev, doctor Henryk Solonovich, engineer Boruckh Goldberg, and literary critic Shmuel Charny (Niger). The organization included Historical and Literature, Lecture, Museum, and Pedagogical Commissions which worked in corresponding particular areas of the HMH activities. Later active members of the Vilna OPE were such Yiddishist figures as linguist Nakhum Shtif, sociologist and economist Jacob Lestschinsky, and scholarand librarian Khaykel Lunski.

Though the leadership of the Society was interested in all kinds of cultural projects, the most effort and energy was invested in the sphere of Jewish education. From the year 1909 the Pedagogical Commission together with the Executive Committee and other Commissions had worked out and prepared for implementation the following projects: Evening courses for Jewish studies, summer general education courses for Jewish teachers, a two-year women’s pedagogical course, a men’s exemplary school, evening high school for adults, and a pedagogical museum for use by Jewish schools. All of the projects, however, were declined by the Russian administration using various pretexts and legal manipulations. A considerable problem was created by a paragraph in the Statute of the Vilna HMH which defined the area of the organization’s activity by the city of Vilna and Vilna gubernia, by which all the teachers from outside Vilna area, who comprised the bulk of participants of the planned projects, were prevented from participation. The projects were therefore not approved by the local Russian police and educational authorities, which by law were in charge of issuing all kinds of permits related to public meetings, gatherings and educational activities.

Besides the above projects the Society provided textbooks and regular payments for the education of needy Jewish students in Vilna schools, maintained a public library of more than 15,000 books in a number of languages, financed lectures on pedagogical and general Jewish interest topics, and provided development of programs for Jewish education. The Committee worked closely with the Vilna City Council on introducing comprehensive primary education and insisted on inclusion of the Jewish schools in the general school network. The Committee also created a Heder Commission, which worked on coordination and unification of the Heder education and its programs, for improvement of the learning conditions for students and the “amelioration of moral and material situation of the Heder teachers”.

Subject/Index Terms

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions:

Note to researchers: This collection is currently closed in preparation for the YIVO Vilna Collections Project and will reopen by December 2016.

Permission to use the collection must be obtained from the YIVO Archivist.

Use Restrictions:

Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained from the YIVO Archives. For more information, contact:

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

email: archives@yivo.cjh.org

Acquisition Method: The collection was a part of the original YIVO Archives in Vilna (Wilno), Poland, and was acquired along with other materials of the Vilna YIVO, ca. 1.8 feet.

Related Materials: Materials from 1919 through 1940 of the HMH Educational Committee, which was transformed into the Tsentraler Bildungs Komitet (Central Education Committee, TsBK), a semi-autonomous branch of a secular Yiddish school sysytem in Poland, the TSYSHO (Central Yiddish School Organization), were separated from the HMH documents and became part of the THYSHO-Vilna collection (RG 48). Materials from the same period as OPE’s about Jewish education can be found at the YIVO Archives in the Vilna collection (RG 29) and Vilna Jewish Community Council (RG 10). Jewish education in Vilna after World War I is reflected in the above mentioned TSYSHO collection and VILBIG collection (RG 11).

Preferred Citation: Published citations should take the following form:Identification of item, date (if known); Hevrah Mefitsei Haskalah Society Records; RG 22; box number; folder number; YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

Series 1: Series I: Branch Bylaws and Minutes, 1890-1918,
Series 2: Series II: Budget and Membership Materials, 1902-1919,
Series 3: Series III: Correspondence of the Executive Committee and Special Commissions, 1868-1933,
Series 4: Series IV: Educational Commission and the Boys’ School, 1904-1921

Series I: Branch Bylaws and Minutes
The Series contains materials on creation of the Vilna OPE, its bylaws (statute) and minutes of the general meetings of Vilna OPE members, and minutes of the executive committee and of the special commissions. The general meeting of the Vilna OPE members was the main governing body of the organization and was the arena of disputes on the paths for Jewish education, on the choice of languages in which to provide education, and on relations with the head organization in St. Petersburg. As a result Vilna OPE did much to shape Jewish education not just in the Vilna area but throughout Russia and Poland and to make Yiddish the main language of the secular Jewish school.
Language of Material: In Russian , Yiddish , and Hebrew .
Box 1
Folder 1: Hevrah Mefitsei Haskalah Statute of the Vilna Branch (Vilna OPE) and related documents, correspondence
Signed and stamped text of the statute, texts of statute drafts, memorandum on a conference of the Society, 1903; correspondence; list of publications; draft of a report from 1913; Russian
Folder 2: Minutes of the general meetings of the Vilna Branch
Minutes with attached financial statements, invitations, lists of members present, ballot records; Russian
Folder 3: Minutes of the general meetings of the Vilna section of HMH accompanied by financial reports
Minutes with attached financial statements, invitations, lists of members present, ballot records; Russian, Yiddish
Folder 4: Minutes of the Executive Committee meetings
Folder 5: Minutes of the Executive Committee meetings
Folder 6: Minutes of the Executive Committee meetings, handwritten drafts
Folder 7: Minutes of the Executive Committee meetings, handwritten drafts
Russian, Yiddish
Box 2
Folder 8: Minutes of the Finance Revision Commission meetings, Commission reports
undated, 1915-1917
Folder 9: Minutes of the History and Literature Commission meetings
Folder 10: Minutes of the Lecture Commission meeting
Folder 11: Minutes of the Pedagogical Information Bureau, Commission reports, correspondence
undated, 1910-1918
Russian, Yiddish
Folder 12: Minutes of the War Relief Commission meetings
undated, 1914-1915
Meetings chaired by Sophia Shabad; Russian
Series II: Budget and Membership Materials
The Series contains information on Vilna OPE membership and its financing. As a membership organization, Vilna OPE was financed mostly through the membership fees, though some of the members, most notably doctors Zemach Szabad and Isaac Michelson used their private funds to cover the deficit for the organization.
Language of Material: In Russian , Yiddish .
Box 2
Folder 13: Invitations to meetings, with agenda stated
1902, 1909-1919
Folder 14: Membership applications
Folder 15: Membership cards
Folder 16: Membership lists, dues payment lists
Folder 17: Membership lists, dues payment lists
Russian, Yiddish
Folder 18: Receipts for payments made by the Vilna Branch
Folder 19: Repoprt of the Vina Branch (OPE), galley proofs
Folder 20: Vilna Branch budget
1913, 1918
Folder 21: Vilna OPE Children’s Kitchens monthly financial reports
Series III: Correspondence of the Executive Committee and Special Commissions
The Series include correspondence of the bodies of Vilna OPE with local representatives and groups of OPE, with Russian authorities and with German occupation authorities. Folder 24 contains letter from S. An-ski, Folder 32 includes correspondence with historian of Jewish literature Israel Zinberg, musician David Shor.
Language of Material: In Russian , Hebrew , and Yiddish .
Box 2
Folder 22: Correspondence of Executive Committee, general
Folder 23: Correspondence of Executive Committee on Teachers courses
Folder 24: Correspondence of Executive Committee vice-chairman Pinkhas Kagan
Letter to Shabad from S. An-ski, 1910; Shabad's note to Anton and Ivan Luckievic of Belarusian Museum in Vilna, 1917
Box 3
Folder 25: Correspondence of Executive Committee with local chapters
Folder 26: Correspondence of Executive Committee with localities in Russia
Questionnaire on heders in Orany, Vilna gubernie
Folder 27: Correspondence of Executive Committee with the periodical Jewish Education Messenger
Folder 28: Correspondence of Executive Committee with Russian authorities for approval of functions and events
Folder 29: Correspondence of Executive Committee with the German occupation authorities
Folder 30: Correspondence of Executive Committee with the German occupation authorities
Folder 31: Correspondence of Heder Commission, questionnaires
1909-1910, 1913
Folder 32: Correspondence of Lecture Commission on concerts, lectures and events
1910-1912, 1914-1915, 1918, 1933
Letters from Israel Zinberg on his lecture on Semion Yushkevich; correspondence with musician David Solomonovich Shor; lecture announcements, tickets; Russian, German, Yiddish
Folder 33: Correspondence of Library Commission, announcements, reader cards, financial report, budget
undated, 1911-1917
Folder 34: Correspondence of St. Petersburg office with Koretz Rabbi Hershenhorn
Folder 35: Correspondence of Teachers' Commission
undated, 1914-1916
Box 4
Folder 36: Correspondence of War Relief Commission
undated, 1915-1917
Folder 37: Forms and questionnaires, blank
undated, 1910
Series IV: Educational Commission and the Boys’ School
The Series includes documents related to the work of the Education Commission and Boys’s School run by the Vilna OPE. During World War I and soon after the German occupation of Vilna the former Pedagogical and School Commissions merged into one Educational Commission and became a kind of an umbrella organization for all Jewish educational institutions in Vilna. It developed programs, curricula and provided funds for the Jewish schools, as well as soup kitchens for the needy Jewish children. A considerable amount of materials and correspondence in this Series is in German, for Germans closely controlled the educational process in the occupied Russian areas. A number of education-related materials in this Series reflect the work of the Education Commission to create uniform school programs and curricula as was demanded by the German authorities.
Language of Material: In Russian , German , and Yiddish .
Box 4
Folder 38: Antokoler School, monthly budget reports for 1916, correspondence
Folder 39: Boys School announcements for enrolment
Folder 40: Boys School correspondence
Folder 41: Boys School curricula
undated, 1916-1918
Folder 42: Boys School--invitations for the trustees committee meetings
Folder 43: Boys School music classes
Folder 44: Boys School receipts, charity events tickets
Folder 45: Boys School students report cards, student ID sample
Folder 46: Curricula on secular subjects and lists of textbooks
Folder 47: Curricula on religious subjects and list of texts
Folder 48: Girls School of Kuperstein, printed materials, announcements
1912, 1916
Folder 49: Invitations to Education Commission members to various education institutions' meetings
Tora Tmimo, Farband fun Yidish Lerers un. Lererins in Vilne; Yidish Hoyptfarein far Masnshpayz Anshtalts in Vilne; Hilfsfarain fun Vilner Kamashenshtefer; Gezelshaft Far Gegenzaytike Hilf fun Yid. Lerer u. Lererins in Vilne; Yidisher Studenten Farayn
Folder 50: Jewish Real Gymnasium
Folder 51: Letter to Educational Commission from the Jewish Teachers Union
Folder 52: Letter to Educational Commission with an extract of minutes of pedagogical council of the Girls' school
Folder 53: Memoranda and correspondence of Educational Committee
1912 -1918
Folder 54: Minutes of the Teachers' council of the Vilna OPE
Folder 55: Minutes of Vilna Teachers’ Conference
Folder 56: Programs of events for schools’ charity
Folder 57: Questionnaires on Jewish subjects in Vilna educational institutions
Folder 58: Samples of student’s examination and school works of Noson Segal
undated, 1905
Folder 59: Teachers courses (Pedagogical Course) materials
Folder 60: Yugnt drama group—agreement on school charitable performances

Browse by Series:

Series 1: Series I: Branch Bylaws and Minutes, 1890-1918,
Series 2: Series II: Budget and Membership Materials, 1902-1919,
Series 3: Series III: Correspondence of the Executive Committee and Special Commissions, 1868-1933,
Series 4: Series IV: Educational Commission and the Boys’ School, 1904-1921
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