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Simon Dubnow Papers

Identifier: RG 87

Scope and Content Note

The core of the materials in this collection are the hundreds documents Dubnow received from communities in Russia and Poland in response to his 1891 article, "Ob Izuchenii Istorii Russkikh Evreev" (On the Study of the History of Russian Jews), which called for the collection of source materials to enable research on the history of Russian Jewry. In addition to a modest quantity of original items, Dubnow received information meticulously copied for the purpose of aiding his research. Following this initial burst Dubnow continued to gradually build his archive for most of the rest of his life. Important later additions pertain to Dubnow's subsequent research projects, including material related to Hasidism and historical pogroms. A large group of documents was added to the collection after the 1917 revolution. At that time, Dubnow was able to make use of the former imperial archives in St. Petersburg that previously had been closed to him, and he made copies of selected documents about Russian-Jewish relations, blood libels, and anti-Jewish pogroms.

These materials include originals and copies of community registers (pinkasim) from Sloboda (Novy Mstislavl), Pińczów, Piotrowice, Bikhov (Bychów), Tykocin, Zabłudów, Biržai, Dubno, Lublin, Mezritch (Międzyrzec), and Liozna, as well as portions copied from the pinkasim of the Council of Four Lands (Vaad Arbah Aratsot) and the Council of Lithuania (Vaad Medinat Lite). Other historical documents relate to restrictions and privileges issued by governments to Jewish populations, to blood libel trials and to Gezerot Takh-ve-Tat (the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648-1649). In addition, there are documents from the Russian Justice Ministry and Senate and materials on pogroms in the Russian empire, including pogroms in Kishinev (1903), Homel (1903) and Bialystok (1906). There are also materials on Hasidism, such as extracts of books, correspondence and documents by and about Hasidic rabbis and about Hasidism.

The collection also contains two caches of family papers and records: the papers of Simon Dubnow’s grandfather Rabbi Bentsion Dubnow, and a chain of title for a house in Vilna beginning in 1643. In addition to research material, the collection contains a small amount of correspondence, reports, newspaper clippings, and other materials related to contemporary events and concerns, as well as books from Dubnow’s library, and miscellaneous notes and writings.

Finally, while living in Berlin, Dubnow added a large collection of his correspondence with scholars and zamlers, spanning some forty-five years. Correspondents include Simha Assaf, Mathias Bersohn, Martin Buber, Joseph Chazanowicz, Bernhard Friedberg, Israel Friedlander, Bernard Naftali Friedman, Yuli Gessen, Shmuel Abba Horodezky, Moses Schorr, Abraham Schwadron (Avraham Sharon), Pinhas Turberg, and Maxim Vinaver.


  • 1632-1938
  • Majority of material found within 1700-1900


Language of Materials

The collection is in Yiddish and Hebrew, with some Polish, Russian, and German, and a small amount of Aramaic, Latin, and French.

Access Restrictions

The collection has been digitized and is available online without restrictions. The physical collection is closed.

Use Restrictions

The images, documents, film footage, audio materials, and texts displayed in any portion of this web site may be copyrighted. Permission to use this web site is given on condition that the user agrees to follow U.S. copyright laws. The user agrees that she or he assumes liability for any copyright violations resulting from unauthorized use of items appearing on this web site and to hold YIVO harmless from any action involving copyright infringement. It is the responsibility of the user to carry out a due diligence search under U.S. copyright laws to determine the copyright status of items displayed on this web site.

Biographical Note

Simon Meyerovich Dubnow was born on September 10, 1860 in Mstislavl, Russia (now Belarus). He was raised in a large, religious family in the home of his grandfather Bentsion, a respected rabbinic scholar and misnaged who provided Dubnow with a traditional Jewish education. From a young age he was drawn to historical and heretical works, acquainting himself with Hebrew literature, maskilic newspapers and journals, Russian, German, English, mathematics, among other subjects. Largely self-taught and unable to obtain a high school diploma (and thence attend university), in 1880 he moved illegally to St. Petersburg to pursue historical research and journalism. There he spent his days studying in libraries and writing essays, articles, and book reviews for Russian Jewish periodicals such as Rasvet (Dawn), Voskhod (Sunrise), and Russkii evrei (Russian Jews).

Unable to secure a residency permit in St. Petersburg, in 1884 the now married Dubnow was forced to return to Mstislavl, which remained his primary residence until the family moved to Odessa in 1890. Though limited compared to St. Petersburg, Odessa was a hub for Jewish intellectuals and literary figures who shared an ideology of cultural Jewish nationalism.

Dubnow’s first published original historical work, a series on the origins of Hasidism, appeared in Voskhod between 1888 and 1893. In 1891, frustrated by the lack of organized support and research materials available for scholars of Eastern European Jewry, Dubnow published an essay "On the Study of the History of Russian Jews and the Establishment of a Russian Jewish Historical Society," in Voskhod, in which he issued a call for the collection of Russian Jewish historical sources. In 1892 Dubnow rewrote his essay in Hebrew and published it under the title "Let Us Search and Study". The Hebrew article was reprinted as a separate brochure and distributed free of charge throughout the Pale. Between 1893 and 1895 Dubnow received hundreds of historical documents, including minute books of the local and regional communities (pinkasim), community registers, memorabilia, letters, manuscripts, legends and folklore materials, rare books, government documents, inscriptions, martyrological texts, and Hasidic literature. In addition, Dubnow's correspondents sent him extensive bibliographic and historical notes on sources that they had uncovered.

In Odessa Dubnow evolved his historiographical and political philosophies, which he grounded in a concept he termed “historism” – the history of Eastern European Jewry serves as the spiritual source supporting national identity. His most significant publications during this period include the 1893 essay “What is Jewish History? An Attempt at a Philosophic Analysis” in Voskhod, his 1896 textbook Vseobshchaia istoriia evreev (A General History of the Jews), and a series of essays in Voskhod between 1897 and 1907 explicating his ideology of Jewish nationalism known as autonomism.

Dubnow did not limit his activity to writing. In 1901-1903 he was involved in a “kulturkampf” among members of the Odessa OPE (Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia, Obshchestva dlia Rasprostraneniia Prosveshcheniia Mezhdu Evreiami v Rossii) over how much Jewish content to include in schools subsidized by OPE. In 1906, after three years spent in Vilna, Dubnow moved again to St. Petersburg, where he taught Jewish history and contributed to the founding of the Folkspartey and the Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Society. He served as editor of Evreiskaia starina (Jewish Past) from 1909 to 1918, and in 1920 participated in a committee organized by the Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Society to review and publish materials related to blood libels.

Dubnow was given permission to leave Russia in 1922. He emigrated first to Kovno, Lithuania and then settled in Berlin. There he lived in relative seclusion while working on the ten volume World History of the Jewish People, first published in German translation in 1925-1929. During this period, he also contributed his venerable stature and experience to the Historical Section of YIVO (Yiddish Scientific Institute, Yidisher visnshaftlikhe institut), printed an edition of the Pinkas Medinat Lita (Records of the Lithuanian Council), and published his three volume history of Hasidism in Yiddish, Hebrew, and German.

In 1933 Dubnow moved from Berlin to Riga, leaving his archive with Elias Tcherikower to be delivered to YIVO. In Riga he wrote his autobiography Kniga zhizni: Vospominaniia i razmyshleniia; Materiali dlia istorii moevo vremeni (Book of Life: Reminiscences and Reflections; Material for the History of My Times) published in 3 volumes in 1934-1940. After Nazi troops invaded Riga in July 1941 Dubnow was forced from his home into the Riga Ghetto, where he was murdered on December 8.

Based upon: Seltzer, Robert M. "Dubnow, Simon." YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. New York: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 2010, pp. 432-434.

Groberg, K. (1993). The Life and Influence of Simon Dubnov (1860-1941): An Appreciation. Modern Judaism, 13(1), 71-93.

For further reading, see the excellent bibliography compiled by Simon Rabinovitch.


3.2 Linear Feet


This collection consists of materials gathered by Simon Dubnow, an influential political thinker, educator, writer, activist, and preeminent historian of Russian Jewry. The materials reflect central subjects of his historical research, such as communal organization, persecutions, and Hasidism, as well as pressing issues of his time, most significantly pogroms and the question of Jewish emancipation. Much of the material comprises information meticulously copied and sent to Dubnow by individuals throughout the Russian Empire for the purpose of aiding his research. The collection demonstrates Dubnow's importance in helping to establish the idea of Jewish ethnographic history.


The collection is arranged in series, according to Dubnow's own classification: Pinkasim, Civilia, Communalia, Pogrom Materials, Miscellaneous, Literaria, and Correspondence. The first three series have been formed entirely from documents collected in the 1890s, while the other series contain later materials as well.

The documents have been paginated. The Simon Dubnow Papers, RG 87, while being a separate record group, has been cataloged as part of the Tcherikower Archive, RG 80-89, along with several other collections belonging to that section in the YIVO Archives. Therefore, the folder and page numbering of this record group begins at the point where the preceding collection's numbering ends. Thus the first folder in the RG 87 bears number 913 and the first page is number 72795.

The first two folders, number 913 and 914, contain the Yiddish finding aids compiled by Elias Tcherikower, Chaim Borodiansky and Zosa Szajkowski. The current English-language inventory is an edited translation of Borodiansky and Szajkowski's lists. Every attempt has been made to standardize the translations and transliterations of individual and place names. Alternate geographical names are in parentheses.

Each document is identified by its folder number, e.g. 915, and page numbers, e.g. 73067-73100. In addition, when available, the old document numbers used by Dubnow are inserted alongside the present numbers in brackets, e.g. I.1.

Series I: Pinkasim (communal registers), 1632-1899, 1933
Series II: Civilia, 1792-1909
Series III: Communalia, 1880-1912
Series IV: Pogroms, 1881-1923
Series V: Miscellania, 1760-1921
Series VI: Literaria, 1643-1938
Series VII: Correspondence, 1885-1932

Custodial Information

As Dubnow moved from Odessa to Vilna, St. Petersburg, Kovno, Danzig, and Berlin, he took along the entire archive. Faced with the necessity of yet another move in 1933, this time from Berlin to Riga, Latvia, he decided to donate the larger part of the archive to the YIVO Institute in Vilna. Dubnow resolved to take along with him to Riga the smaller part of his archive, which consisted of documents he needed for writing his memoirs and excerpts of the series which he named "Hasidiana," which included documents related to the history of the Hasidic movement.

In the end, the records destined for the YIVO never reached Vilna. In Berlin, Dubnow left the YIVO collection in the care of his disciple and compatriot Elias Tcherikower. Tcherikower, who was a member of the YIVO Executive Committee and the chairman of YIVO's Historical Section, had been entrusted with many other collections destined for the YIVO in Vilna. However Tcherikower was soon forced to move these collections (subsequently known as the Archive of the YIVO Historical Section, or the Elias Tcherkower Archive) to Paris in a hurry. During World War II, the archive was kept in hiding in southern France. Finally, in 1944, the Tcherikower Archive, including the Dubnow Papers, was recovered intact and shipped to the YIVO in New York. The part which Dubnow took to Riga was confiscated by the Germans at the time of Dubnow's arrest. At least a fraction of the Riga consignment, about 3 linear feet of papers, was recovered from Germany after the war and placed in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem. However, the fate of the "Hasidiana" series remains unknown, as does the fate of Dubnow's library, which he had bequeathed to YIVO as well. According to Tcherikower's list, forty-two of the total forty-five Hasidiana documents remained in Dubnow's possession. Readers of Dubnow's History of Hasidism will find many of those documents incorporated in his text.

Other Finding Aids

The original Yiddish finding aid can be found at


The collection is on 8 reels of microfilm (MK 470.73 - 470.80) in the YIVO Archive.

Related Material

The Simon Dubnow Papers are part of the Elias Tcherikower Archive, RG 80-89, with which they share a provenance. The YIVO Archives and Library also ccntain several books by and about Dubnow, including his autobiography and historical works, as well as several of the pinkasim that Dubnow collected. His correspondence is also represented in several archival collections, including David Mowshowitch, Abraham Liessin, Jacob Lestchinsky, Joseph Opatoshu, and Elias Tcherikower's personal collection.

Separated Material

Over the decades some personal documents of Dubnow, as well as invitations, exhibition materials, and photocopies of outgoing Dubnow correspondence were appended to the Simon Dubnow Papers. These items have been removed from RG 87 and created as a separate record group.

Processing information

Dubnow organized the papers himself before giving the collection to Elias Tcherikower. While still in Berlin, Tcherikower drafted a preliminary listing of the papers destined for YIVO, including the Hasidiana that Dubnow wished to keep at the time. At some point while the materials were still in Berlin the historian Chaim Borodiansky (later known as Chaim Bar-Dayan) compiled an inventory of the Dubnow papers, which superseded the Tcherikower list. These lists describe materials in folders 913-995. YIVO archivists in New York continued to add items as they were recovered and identified, creating folders 996-1017. Around 1972, YIVO archivist Zosa Szajkowski added a listing of Dubnow's correspondence. This combined inventory serves today as the original Yiddish finding aid to the collection (f. 913, 914). The English-language finding aid is an edited translation of the Yiddish.

The English finding aid was created by Marek Web and Chava Lapin in 2008. Additional processing completed in November 2011. In 2019 the collection received additional processing as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project. At that time some folders were physically divided into subfolders and given alphanumeric identities, e.g. 935a-935g, to better reflect the original inventory. Folder descriptions and dates were also modified.

Guide to the Simon Dubnow Papers, 1632-1938 (bulk 1700-1900) RG 87
Originally processed by Chaim Borodiansky in the 1930s. Yiddish/Russian finding aid translated into English by Shaindel Fogelman. Edited by Marek Web and Chava Lapin in 2008. Finding aid encoded by Rachel Harrison in 2011. Materials 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). Additional work funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Earlier work funded by the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation (2008) and the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (2011).

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

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