Papers of Khaykl Lunski
Scope and Content Note
The materials in this collection relate to Khaykl Lunski's literary efforts, communal engagement, work at the Strashun Library, and personal life. They include notes and drafts for Khaykl Lunski’s works on the history of the Jewish community of Slonim, on the Vilna Gaon and other rabbis, and on life in Vilna during World War I; correspondence with family members, scholars, bibliographers, collectors, rabbis, authors, and religious institutions; administrative records of the Strashun Library including bibliographic notes, preliminary book catalogs, financial records, minutes, and bulletins; accounts, minutes, announcements, and correspondence of cultural, charitable, and religious organizations in Vilna and in Palestine; collected community documents and correspondence; private documents; and newspaper clippings.
- Majority of material found within 1900-1940
Language of Materials
The collection is in Yiddish and Hebrew, with some Russian, Lithuanian, Polish, German, English, and French.
The collection has been digitized and is available online without restrictions. The physical collection is closed.
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Khaykl Lunski was born on June 29, 1881 in Slonim, Russia (now Belarus). His father was a melamed and was descended from a rabbinical family from Koenigsberg. From a young age, Lunski received a traditional Jewish education, attending kheyder and then the yeshivas of Slonim and Lida. In 1892 he came to Vilna, where he spent two years as a shames in a small synagogue.
In 1895 Lunski began working for the Strashun Library. In addition to growing and managing the library's collection, Lunski served as a living catalogue for library patrons. He was renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge of the library's contents, and beloved for his kindness and humility. He remained at the Strashun Library until its liquidation by the Nazis in 1941. He was also active in Zionist and religious circles. In 1918, he assisted S. Ansky in establishing the Jewish Historical Ethnographic Society in Vilna and collected thousands of documents, books, pictures, pinkasim (record books of Jewish communities), and folklore materials for the Society and for its publications. He became secretary of the Jewish Historical Ethnographic Society in 1919 and was also an active member of the YIVO's bibliographic commission.
Lunski’s literary career began with Zionist poetry, which he published in Luah Eretz-Yisrael (Calendar of Israel) in 1905. In 1917 he produced Toldot hagaon hatsadik maran r’ mordekhai vaytsel, a biography of his (by then deceased) wife's grandfather. He began writing in Yiddish in the same year, with essays about Vilna in the anthologies Vilner zamlbukh and Pinkes. In subsequent years he published essays, articles, and books on the history of Vilna Jews during World War I, biographies of rabbis and religious scholars such as the Vilna Gaon, a memoir of S. Ansky, a catalogue of the Strashun Library, and several other works. He also collected thousands of books for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Just prior to the Second World War, Lunski was in the process of writing a history of the Jewish community of Slonim. In all probability, this work was lost during the war.
During the Nazi occupation of Vilna, the Strashun Library and YIVO Library and Archives were liquidated. Lunski and other members of Vilna’s Jewish intelligentsia were forced, along with other Jews from the Vilna Ghetto, to work for the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, a Nazi unit involved in looting Jewish cultural property in the occupied countries. Lunski was made to sort, pack, and ship thousands of Jewish books and archival materials from the Strashun Library, mainly to the NSDAP Institut zur Erfoschung die Judenfrage in Frankfurt am Main. While in the Ghetto he wrote works about the gravestones in the old Jewish cemetery in Vilna and about Jewish publishing in Vilna. He also kept a ghetto diary. These works also appear to have been lost.
The information concerning Lunski’s death is contradictory. Shmerke Kaczerginski claimed that Lunski was deported to Treblinka together with his daughter Khana, while other accounts say that he was tortured and died in Vilna in September 1942.
- Abramowicz, Hirsz. Profiles of a Lost World: Memoirs of East European Jewish Life before World War II. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1999.
- Jeshurin, Efim, ed. Vilne: A zamelbukh gevidmet der shtot Vilne. (Vilna: A Collection Dedicated to the City of Vilna). New York: Vilner 367 Brentsh, Arbayter Ring, 1935.
- Kruk, Herman. The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania: Chronicles from the Vilna Ghetto and the Camps, 1939-1944. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2002.
- Congress for Jewish Culture, ed. Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur. (Lexicon of the New Jewish Literature). New York: 1963.
1.3 Linear Feet
The Papers of Khaykl Lunski are comprised of Lunski’s manuscripts, correspondence, notes and records, as well as documents from the administrative files of the Strashun Library and the S. Ansky Historical Ethnographic Society in Vilna.
The Lunski materials are arranged according to functional provenance, as follows:
- Series I: Professional and communal records, 1898-1941
- Subseries 1: Writings, undated, 1912-1939
- Subseries 2: Strashun Library, 1898-1941
- Subseries 3: Vilna institutions, 1903-1940
- Series II: Correspondence, 1898-1940
- Series III: Miscellaneous, 1836-1936
After the Nazi invasion of Vilna in 1941, Khaykl Lunski’s papers were mixed with other collections looted by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg unit. In 1945, these and other Jewish materials from Eastern Europe were brought by the U.S. Army to the Offenbach archival depot, from which they were subsequently redistributed among archives and libraries. The Lunski papers, together with 40,000 surviving volumes from the Strashun Library, were sent to YIVO in New York in 1947.
The original order of Khaykl Lunski's papers was lost as a consequence of the Nazi looting. When they arrived at YIVO in New York, the papers were grouped together with other materials relating to Yiddish writers, which became RG 3, Collection of Yiddish Literature and Language. Ezekiel Lifschutz compiled and wrote a Yiddish finding aid for RG 3 circa 1950. This finding aid was translated from Yiddish by Chava Lapin and edited by Rivka Schiller, 2007-2008 with the assistance of a grant from the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation. In 2011 the Papers of Khaykl Lunski were extracted from RG 3 to form their own record group, RG 58.
In 2019 the papers were prepared for digitization by the EBYVOCP. At that time the collection was analyzed and arranged. A concordance with the previous digital finding aid is available upon request.
- Guide to the Papers of Khaykl Lunski (ca. 1881-ca. 1942), 1836-1941 RG 58
- Under Revision
- Processed by Ezekiel Lipschutz. Edited by Rivka Schiller with the assistance of a grant from the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation. Additional processing by Rachel S. Harrison. Materials processed, arranged, and prepared for digitization by Jessica Podhorcer in 2019.
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Processed, conserved and digitized as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project (2015-2022). Earlier description and encoding funded by the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation (2008) and the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (2011).