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Yad Vashem The Jerusalem of Lithuania: The Story of the Jewish Community of Vilna

The Interwar Period

Cultural Life

YIVO (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut) – The Yiddish Scientific Institute

YIVO employees before and during the war. Bottom left: The ruins of the YIVO building in Vilna after the warYIVO employees before and during the war.
Bottom left: The ruins of the YIVO building in Vilna after the war

The YIVO building in Vilna before the warThe YIVO building in Vilna before the war
Vilna, Poland, crowds during the laying of the cornerstone of the YIVO building, October 1929Vilna, Poland, crowds during the laying of the cornerstone of the YIVO building, October 1929
A lecture given by Prof. Hersch Liebman from Geneva, Switzerland, in the lecture hall of the YIVO building in Vilna during a seminar on democracy, September - October 1937A lecture given by Prof. Hersch Liebman from Geneva, Switzerland, in the lecture hall of the YIVO building in Vilna during a seminar on democracy, September - October 1937

Jewish science and culture organizations operated in Vilna, including the "Kultur Liga" (Culture League), the Philology Organization, and organizations for  Historiography and Ethnography (Folklore and Music) founded by Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport (known by his penname, S. Ansky). In 1925, YIVO – the institute for research into Yiddish history, culture, economy, psychology and education – was founded. Among YIVO's activists were the historian Simon Dubnow and Eliyahu Golomb. The institute published a scientific journal and academic works – among them history and folklore publications, and monographs on Socialism and the Jewish media – held world conferences, and ran a circle of researchers. Private archives, such as that of Esther-Rachel Kaminski, were donated to the institute and the institute began to form a museum of the history of Yiddish theatre.

YIVO published volumes in its series of books Archives, among them Articles On the Economy, Articles On Psychology and Pedagogy, a study dedicated to the Czernowitz Yiddish Language Conference of 1908, and Simon Dubnow's publication, The History of Hassidism (1931).

Researchers at YIVO collated a huge amount of material on the lives of Jews in the Diaspora, and in particular, of Yiddish speakers. The institute presented itself as non-partisan, and thus won the support of many Zionists. Writers, historians, editors and artists from across Europe, the US, Argentina and Eretz Israel attended YIVO's world congress in 1935. Albert Einstein, Zigmund Freud and others sent greetings. During the institute's existence, it held an exhibition of Jewish artists in Poland, with the participation of Marc Chagall.

By the beginning of WWII, the YIVO library had collected some 100,000 volumes and over 100,000 titles, including journals, documents, etc. Some of the material was lost during the Holocaust. Some was transferred by the occupying German forces to Germany, and after the war to the branch in New York, which became the new YIVO centre in 1940.

The exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Mr. Nehemia Burgin in memory of his dear and beloved parents, Holocaust survivors Zlata (Zehava) Burgin and Yehiel Burgin of blessed memory.