YIVO Archives in New York
In 1940, YIVO was revived in New York by the members of its Central Board who had escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe, and by the leaders of the American branch of YIVO. The group included Max Weinreich, Elias Tcherikower, Jacob Lestschinsky, Leibush Lehrer, Shmuel Niger, Jacob Shatzky, and Naphtali Feinerman. In a statement issued that year, they declared the reestablishment of YIVO in New York, since "normal communications with the Institute in Vilna have been cut off."
The American branch, commonly called Amopteyl (an abbreviation of Amerikaner Opteyl, trans. American Branch), provided the initial organizational framework for the renewed YIVO Institute. In 1935, the Amopteyl had founded the Central Jewish Library and Archives (CJLA). In 1938, it began accessioning literary manuscripts and institutional records and by 1940, its library had about 15,000 volumes. The CJLA became part of YIVO when the Institute reconstituted itself on American soil.
In 1940, Rebecca (Riva) Tcherikower was appointed the first YIVO Archivist of the Central Jewish Library and Archives in New York. In New York, however, the Archives, remained a part of the YIVO Library until about 1953, when the two departments became independent of each other. [To research the separate YIVO Library catalog, search the Online Public Access Catalog at the Center for Jewish History.]
Initially, the goal of the YIVO Archives in New York was to collect documents on Yiddish culture and the Yiddish-speaking milieu in America. But soon its mission was significantly broadened. As the war progressed and the extent of the Jewish catastrophe in Europe became clear, the YIVO Archives widened its responsibilities to include documentation on the life and death of the destroyed communities of Europe. Efforts to rescue the remnants of Jewish archives in Europe gained prominence. With the passing of time, the YIVO Archives became a center for the documentation of both East European and American Jewry.
The growth of the YIVO Archives can be credited in great measure to its many outreach programs. Already in Vilna, YIVO was known as an "active" collector that organized special collecting campaigns around specific goals or topics. This method was adopted in New York and it proved most useful in enlarging the Archive in a purposeful way. The first two such initiatives were indicative of YIVO's new direction. An immigrant autobiography contest was organized in 1942 with the aim of establishing YIVO as a research center for the history of Jewish immigration in America. [A portion of the autobiographies received were published as My Future Is in America: Autobiographies of Eastern European Jewish Immigrants, Jocelyn Cohen and Daniel Soyer, eds. New York: NYU Press, 2008.] The purpose of a second initiative, the "Museum of Homes of the Past" project, announced in 1943, was to encourage American Jews to deposit personal papers, iconographic records, and memorabilia that would document the vanishing world of East European Jewry.
Between 1945 and 1954, YIVO was involved in a project to create the "Archives on Jewish Life Under the Nazis." For this purpose, a network of collectors was organized, which included prewar YIVO zamlers who had survived the war and were living in displaced persons' (DP) camps, Jewish chaplains and soldiers in the U.S. Army, and staff members of Jewish relief organizations assigned to the European theater. YIVO envoys were sent to Europe to coordinate collecting activities. YIVO collectors' groups were organized in 595 localities spanning a wide territorial area, from Bergen-Belsen to Shanghai. As a result of this campaign the archive on the Holocaust and its aftermath was assembled. The archive included documents from ghettos, records of Nazi government agencies, records of wartime Jewish organizations, eyewitness accounts, records of the DP camps, and pictorial materials.
In 1950, YIVO initiated a collection campaign which turned once again to the theme of contemporary Jewish life. The intention was to establish a central archives on the history of the Jews of the United States, with emphasis on the period of mass immigration, from the 1880s to 1924. In conceptualizing this goal, it was pointed out that American Jewish historiography had hitherto been limited to studies of Jewish life in America before 1880. This excluded from consideration an important segment of American Jewry, that is, immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe. YIVO planned to locate available records of the American Jewish past, once again with the assistance of a collector's network, and to secure these records for its Archives. This ambitious concept was realized, in part, by acquiring the records of the several American Jewish relief agencies dealing with Jewish immigration to the United States.
YIVO's readiness to accept and accommodate large institutional archives met with a positive response from the organized Jewish community. From the 1950s to the present, the YIVO Archives has received a steady stream of records from many leading American Jewish organizations, such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Workmen's Circle, the Educational Alliance, and the American Jewish Committee (AJC). In 1992, the Jewish Labor Bund in New York transferred the Bund Archives of the Jewish Labor Movement to the YIVO Archives. In 2008, the records of the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) were transferred to YIVO.
From 1979 to 1983, a Landsmanshaftn Project was conducted with highly successful results. During this period, YIVO located and secured for the Archives records of over 700 landsmanshaftn, which are now organized in 300 record groups. These records document the history of immigrant mutual aid societies in the New York area since the mid-nineteenth century.
In the 1970s-80s, there were several outreach programs to collect historical photographs. Two of these projects, one focusing on Polish Jewry (1970-75) and the other on Russian and Soviet Jewry (1985-88) succeeded in greatly enriching the territorial photographic collections on Poland and Russia. These collection projects also resulted in traveling exhibitions, books, and a documentary film, Image Before My Eyes. [See the books, Image Before by Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish life in Poland, 1864-1939,by Lucjan Dobroszycki and Barbara Kirshenblatt Gimblett; and A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union, 1881 to the present by Zvi Y. Gitelman.]
In addition to its outreach collecting projects, the YIVO Archives regularly acquires papers, records, and memorabilia offered by numerous donors on a broad range of topics relating to the history and culture of East European and American Jewry. Over the years, the YIVO Archives has become an established repository of primary sources in the Jewish humanities, preserving and providing access to a collection that is central to studying the past and present of the Jewish people.