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Organizing the YIVO Archives in the Post War Period: Brief Overview

From the 1950s to the present several arrangement and description projects have been carried out that have resulted in the present organization of the YIVO Archives.

The YIVO-Yad Vashem Documentary Project, carried out primarily in the 1950s, saw the organization, arrangement, and description of collections that bore testimony to the Holocaust. This included, on one hand, the Vilna Archives, which in its entirety was viewed as a remnant of the destroyed Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, and on the other hand, the collections that documented the Holocaust.

In 1947, the portion of the YIVO Archives in Vilna that had been discovered by the United States Army in Frankfurt, Germany, was returned to YIVO in New York and documents in this group were indentified and traced back to the original collections to which they had belonged in prewar YIVO. This work resulted in the creation of an archival division designated as the Vilna Archives. Included under this designation were the institutional records of the YIVO Institute in Vilna, as well as fifty other collections from the prewar YIVO Vilna Archives.

The second major effort relating to the organization of the YIVO Archives was the Record Group Registration Project, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was conducted in the 1970s and its aim was to take complete inventory of all the collections in the YIVO Archives. The need for this project stemmed from the fact that the existing classification system in the YIVO Archives did not always follow the principles of provenance. Documents were often separated from their original collections and classified by subject or research category. Thus, early cataloging procedures in the YIVO Archives resulted in the dispersion of many record groups. In order to restore historical meaning both to the removed materials and to their original collections, a repository-wide restructuring of the collections was required.

During the Record Group Registration Project, the entire YIVO Archives was reorganized and separate descriptions were compiled for each record group, each of which was assigned an inventory (RG) number which was based on the date of accession into the archives. The following record group registration scheme was established:

The YIVO Archives currently houses about 1800 record groups, occupying over 17,000 linear feet. The archival holdings consist of manuscripts, correspondence, and printed materials, as well as photographs, films, sound recordings, art works, and artifacts.

The primary languages of the documents are Yiddish, English, Hebrew, Russian, Polish, French, and German. The holdings, while covering a wide range of topics relating to Jewish history and culture around the world, concentrate on four main areas, reflecting the history of YIVO collecting activities and the scholarly interests of the YIVO Institute. These areas are: Yiddish language, literature, and culture, including significant collections on the Yiddish theater and Yiddish press; European history with focus on East European history; history of the Jews in the United States with emphasis on the migration period from 1880 to 1960; and the Holocaust and its aftermath.

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