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YIVO Archives in Vilna

Reconstructing the holdings of the Archives during YIVO's Vilna period is a difficult task. One reason for this is that no inventories--general or partial--of the Vilna archival collections survived. Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that a great part of the archival materials in Vilna remained uncataloged. Our knowledge of the organization and history of the prewar YIVO Archives is based on several sketchy articles on the archives and lists of new accessions published in the newsletter Yedies fun yivo and on reports of YIVO conferences in 1929 and 1935. In addition, the Lithuanian Central State Archives in Vilnius is in possession of several reports, compiled by Jewish workers conscripted by the Einsatzstab Rosenberg in 1942, about the collections of prewar YIVO and other Jewish repositories in prewar Vilna (Central State Archives, Vilnius, Record Group R633). But, most important, the contents of the YIVO archival collections rescued during and after the war provide a glimpse into the nature and organization of the prewar YIVO Archives.

During the early period of YIVO in Vilna, the work of gathering, inventorying, and preserving archival records was done by the four YIVO sections. The sections conducted surveys in history, economics, and education and gathered oral folklore materials and terminology samples. The sections also received archival collections that were relevant to their fields of research. Thus, over the years, the section on Psychology and Education received a great number of records of various Jewish school systems in Poland. There was even a project, not realized in the end, to create a museum on Jewish education. The History Section took over the holdings of the vast Archives for the History of East European Jews, known in Yiddish as the Mizrakh Yidisher Historisher Arkhiv (assembled in Ukraine in 1918-20 and relocated to Berlin in 1922), and eventually acquired a number of other collections pertaining to the history of Jews in Russia. The archival sources of the Terminology and Ethnography Commissions were built up mainly through the diligent work of their zamlers (collectors). The Esther Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum, established in 1928, became the recipient of many theatrical collections, including the personal papers of Esther Rachel Kaminska and the records of the Jewish Actors Union in Poland.

Soon after this system of departmental collecting was initiated, a variety of materials were received that did not belong to a particular section. Thus, the YIVO Central Archives was established in 1926. The Archives had two divisions: the Central Archives of the Jewish Press, which acquired and cataloged Jewish periodicals, and the Central Archives for documents and manuscripts. In 1937, a photographic archive was established.

During the Lithuanian/Soviet period (September 1939-June 1941), the archives was enlarged by additions of materials from the defunct Jewish schools and other educational institutions in Vilna, and from the Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Societies in Vilna and Kaunas (the Ansky Societies). Fragmentary records from all these institutions are found today in the Vilna section of the YIVO Archives.

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