Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland. Collection.

Title: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland
Inclusive Dates: 1932-1939
ID: RG 4
expand icon Extent Information
9'9.5"; 23 5"lgl; 1 2.5"ltr; 1 map folder
expand icon Arrangement
Boxes 1-23 arranged; Box 24 unarranged
expand icon Biographical/Historical

These autobiographies were submitted to the YIVO in Vilna as entries to three contests (1932, 1934, 1939) sponsored by YIVO's Youth Research Division (Yugntforshung). Originally, there were over 600 autobiographies of which about 300-350 were recovered after World War II.

The original goal of these competitions was to gain a deeper understanding of the social and cultural processes at work in Jewish society, in the Jewish family, and in Jewish-Polish relations.  The driving force behind the YIVO-sponsored competitions was Max Weinreich, a  philologist of the Yiddish language and founding director of YIVO.  Weinreich was strongly influenced by contemporary currents in the social sciences and he turned increasingly toward personal documents as source-material in the study of the condition of the interwar generation of Jewish youth  Extremely concerned for the future of Jewish youth in Eastern Europe, Weinreich proposed the creation of the Yugntforshung project (in English, "Research on Youth") in 1934, which became one of YIVO's leading activities under its Psychology and Pedagogy Research Section.  The autobiography competitions were organized as part of the Yugntforshung The requested age range for the autobiography contestants was 16-22.  All three competitions were open to young men and women regardless of educational, religious, political, or socio-economic background or affiliation.  As one of its competition stipulations, YIVO agreed to honor the anonymity of the autobiographers.  Contestants were encouraged to write in whatever language was most comfortable to them.

Most of these autobiographies came from towns and cities located throughout Poland and Lithuania, though a handful of autobiographies also came from countries as far away as England, Palestine, Syria, and the United States.  In all three competitions, monetary awards were to be granted, with the first place winner being awarded a sum total of 150 zlotys.  Awards were granted in the cases of the first two competitions (1932, 1934), but in the case of the third competition, World War II interrupted the competition's final outcome.  Indeed, on the very day that YIVO intended to announce the winners of the third autobiography competition, Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II.   

The third competition was the most international in scope, since announcements for it went out to Jewish youth-not only throughout Europe-but also, throughout parts of North and South America, Australia, South Africa, and Palestine.  Weinreich eventually published a work in 1935 entitled Der veg tsu undzer yugnt, which drew from the findings of the first two autobiography competitions and outlined the methodology that YIVO had chosen to use for its Yugntforshung project. 

These documents were looted by the Nazis and sent to Germany in 1942.  They were among the YIVO archival materials recovered after World War II from the premises of the NSDAP Institut zur Erforshung die Judenfrage in Frankfurt a/M, and sent to the YIVO in New York City in 1947.

About 17 of these autobiographies were translated into English and published as: Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland before the Holocaust. Ed. Jeffrey Shandler.  (New Haven: Yale University Press in cooperation with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 2002).

expand icon Administrative Information
Restrictions: The collection is available in the reading room with the permission of the Chief Archivist. Researchers should write to to make an advance appointment with the Chief Archivist. Researchers must sign a confidentiality form and respect the anonymity of the autobiographers.

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Restrictions: The collection is open by appointment with the Chief Archivist. Researchers should write to the Chief Archivist at to request an appointment.

expand icon Other Note
Available in the reading room: Inventory & Index: English, 22 pp., typed; Yiddish, 39 pp., ms

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