This website presents highlights from YIVO’s archival collections on Polish Jewry before the Holocaust. It includes thousands of documents, posters, and photographs from the most significant Polish Jewish collections along with detailed finding aids, online exhibitions and media galleries, and two background essays. (For more on what is included on this website, see “What’s On This Website.”)
This project was made possible by the generous support of the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation. Additional support for the completion of the website was provided by Leonard and Chana Grunstein in memory of Morris Grunstein. (For more on sponsorship of this project, see “Sponsors.”)
Founded in Vilna (Wilno), Poland (now Vilnius, Lithuania) in 1925, the YIVO Institute's mission was closely tied with the rich and complex daily life of Polish Jewry. Over the next decade and a half, YIVO published over 2,000 research titles relating to the study of Jewish life in Eastern Europe and created an important archival collection and library. A large and enthusiastic network of Friends of YIVO Societies functioned throughout Poland (as well as in other countries) and collected manuscripts, letters, communal records, posters, photographs, folk tales and folksongs, newspapers, books, and other artifacts for YIVO.
The existence of YIVO in Vilna came to an end during World War II. In the course of the annihilation of European Jewry by the Nazis, Jewish libraries, archives, and museums were destroyed and their contents pillaged. YIVO's collections were ransacked by the Einsatzstab Rosenberg, the Nazi unit in charge of appropriating Jewish cultural treasures. A portion of the collections was transferred to Germany, where it was discovered by U.S. troops in 1945. Other segments of the archives were recovered from hiding places in Vilna, both immediately after the war, and decades later. Still others surfaced in France, where they had been concealed by YIVO associates.
These remnants of YIVO's collections were transferred to New York, where YIVO had reestablished itself in 1940. Other rediscovered YIVO materials remain in Vilna (now Vilnius, Lithuania). Additional documents have been added to YIVO's collections through a sustained outreach/collection program begun by the YIVO Archives in the 1940s and continuing to this day.