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August 18, 1989 - Image 80

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-08-18

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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80

FRIDAY, AUGUST 18, 1989

JONATHAN MARK

Special to The Jewish News

SATURDAY & SUNDAY, AUGUST 19 & 20

SHERWOOD
STUDIOS

YIVO Finds Jewish
Treasures In Monastery

vast storehouse of
rare and precious
Jewish books and let-
ters that predate the
Holocaust has been found in
the Lithuanian city of
Vilnius, according to Samuel
Norich, executive director of
the YIVO Institute for Jewish
Research. YIVO is hoping to
be given access to the
material.
Before the Nazis decimated
the city's Jewish community,
Vilnius was called "the
Lithuanian Jerusalem" as a
tribute to its intellectual
leadership among the Jewish
communities of Eastern
Europe.
True to its reputation, the
newly-found treasures in-
clude approximately 5,000
Jewish books, 20,000 issues of
more than 150 Jewish
newspapers, 70 Ibrah scrolls
and the correspondence of
prewar Jewish luminaries
such as pioneering Yiddish
linguist Max W-einreich and
the legendary Rabbi Israel
Meir HaCohen, revered the
world over as the Chofetz
Chaim.
YIVO, founded in Vilnius
by Weinreich in 1925, moved
to New York City at the onset
of World War II. A major por-
tion of the new-found archives
belonged to YIVO's prewar
collection.
Norich and YIVO's chief ar-
chivist, Marek Web, were in
Vilnius in early March to at-
tend the inaugural conference
of the Jewish Cultural
Association of Lithuania at
the invitation of Emmanuel
Singer, the association's
director.
Norich met Singer in
Poland last April at the 45th
anniversary commemoration
of -the Warsaw Ghetto upris-
ing. "At that time," Norich
said, "Singer told me that
they had discovered some
YIVO material in Vilnius.
"The day I arrived in
Vilnius," Norich said, "Singer
took me directly to the book
center," an old, white, Fran-
ciscan monastery now used as
a warehouse. In the chapel,
estimated to be at least 1,000
square feet, were stacks of
Jewish newspapers in Lithua-
nian, Polish and Yiddish.
According to Norich, the
neatly wrapped and labeled
papers contained what ap-
peared to be the complete
publishing run of numerous
Jewish newspapers from the
early 1920s through 1939.

Sadly, Norich added,
"Everything ends in 1939,"
the beginning of the war.
YIVO ceased its Lithuanian
operations when the Nazis
took over the YIVO building
as their Vilnius head-
quarters. Norich noted that
the Nazis "continued YIVO's
work in a perverse way,"
gathering Jewish books and
letters for a Jewish museum
and library that the Nazis
planned to open after com-
pleting their "final solution."
Some of the treasures
recently found are thought to
be from the Nazi collection,

"It was obvious
that this was YIVO
material. There
was YIVO
stationery dated
all through the
1920s and '30s."

while others appear to have
been smuggled away from the
Nazis and buried for safe-
keeping by slave laborers, in-
cluding some non-Jewish
Lithuanians, working at the
risk of the lives.
In June 1945, the U.S. Ar-
my identified a portion of the
YIVO collection in a suburb
outside Frankfurt, where the
Nazis had shipped it. In 1947,
some 80,000 books and ar-
chival documents and photos
were sent to YIVO head-
quarters in New York.
In 1946, the Soviets took
what the Nazis had left in
Vilnius as the centerpiece for
a Jewish museum of their
own. That museum closed in
1949, and Norich speculated
that some of its holdings end-
ed up at the monastery book
center.
Norich said the director of
the center showed him four
large brown paper packages
tied with string, which con-
tained loose papers.
"We were told there were 32
such packages," Norich said.
"It was obvious that this was
YIVO material. There was
YIVO stationery dated all
through the 1920s and '30s.
The papers looked as if they
had been randomly picked up
off the floor where they were
dumped, then wrapped and
left untouched for all these
years."
Norich said that Web, the
YIVO archivist, recognized at
once the existing YIVO collec-
tions to which the newly
found papers belonged. Some
of the papers, in fact, were

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