Abraham Sutzkever-Szmerke Kaczerginski Historical Collection
Scope and Contents
This collection consists of items saved in the Vilna Ghetto by the 'paper brigade', a group of ghetto inmates led by the Yiddish poets Avraham Sutzkever and Szmerke Kaczerginski. The collection is arranged in eight series and includes correspondence with literary, communal, political and religious figures, Yiddish and Hebrew literary manuscripts, documents of the Yiddish theater, Jewish folklore materials, historical and legal documents, rabbinic responsa and writings, and pinkasim and other Jewish communal records. The bulk of the materials cover the period from the 18th century through the eve of World War II. The collection includes fragments of YIVO’s prewar archival collections, as well as documents from other collections of the prewar period, such as materials from the S. Ansky Historical and Ethnographic Society of Vilna, private papers of Matisyahu and Shmuel Strashun, and local synagogue and communal records from Vilna and outlying areas.
A multiple provenance collection, its very fragmentary nature reflects the circumstances of war and the activities of the Nazi plundering unit called the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, whose pillaging resulted in the breakup and destruction of much of the YIVO Archives and other Jewish cultural treasures. The collection is also in very poor condition because much of it was hidden underground for years and was smuggled out of Vilna into Poland in the postwar period, then into France, before being sent to New York. The collection holds documents which cover a wide range of subjects including the social, literary, political and religious life of Jews in Eastern Europe and also includes materials generated by leading Jewish literary, political and religious figures of the 18th through 20th century.
The collection reflects what aspects of Jewish culture were valuable to Jewish intellectuals in the Vilna Ghetto who needed to make quick and on-the-spot decisions about what to save. Their notion of what was valuable was broad. They saved everything from documents relating to traditional Jewish religious life, to artifacts of modern Yiddish and Hebrew culture. The collection also reflects the deep connection and passion these intellectuals felt for Jewish culture, folklore and history.
- Creation: 1680-1941
- Sutzkever, Abraham, 1913-2010 (Compiler, Person)
- Kaczerginski, Szmerke, 1908-1954 (Compiler, Person)
Conditions Governing Use
Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained from the YIVO Archives. For more information, contact:
YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011
The Sutzkever-Kaczerginski is named in honor of the two Yiddish poets, Avraham Sutzkever and Szmerke Kaczerginski, who worked in the underground ‘paper brigade’ and smuggled more than 10,000 manuscripts, books and artifacts into the Vilna Ghetto, hiding the saved materials wherever they could, often in underground places. The members of the paper brigade were assigned by the Nazi plundering unit, called the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), to the task of sorting through the contents of tens of thousands of books, artifacts, documents, manuscripts, letters, religious artifacts and art works. They were instructed to select the most valuable materials for transfer to Germany, where they were to eventually become part of a museum of the ‘extinct’ Jewish people. The materials not selected were to be sent to the paper mills. The sorting process took place primarily in the YIVO building which had been taken over by the ERR. Determined to save valuable materials from being sent to Germany, the paper brigade hid manuscripts and artifacts and managed to smuggle them one by one into the Vilna Ghetto, hoping that the rescued documents would survive destruction.
After the war Sutzkever and his colleagues painstakingly searched for and found hidden documents, books and artifacts and brought them to the new Jewish Museum of Vilna. When it became apparent that the Soviet authorities had no intention of safeguarding these materials or making them available to the public, and instead were removing materials to the paper mills for destruction, Sutzkever and Kaczerginski devised a plan to smuggle out suitcases of materials to be taken first to Poland and then to France. From France the rescued documents were sent to the reestablished YIVO headquarters in New York. A portion of the documents were taken to Israel and sent to YIVO from Israel. The shipments took place between 1947 and 1956.
The documents and artifacts saved in the Vilna Ghetto contained categories of materials relating to a) The Vilna Ghetto, including diaries, reports about the Judenrat, cultural and educational and religious activities in the Ghetto (this group of documents is described in a separate finding aid); b) YIVO Archives documents and manuscripts held in the YIVO Institute in Vilna before the war, many of them bearing the original YIVO stamp; c) Documents from special archival collections in Vilna, such as the S. Ansky Historical and Ethnographic Society in Vilna; d) Documents relating to the Strashun Library including Rabbi Shmuel Strashun and Matisyahu Strashun and documents and manuscripts collected by the Strashun family; e) Books from the YIVO Library in Vilna and from the Strashun Library and from other Jewish libraries in Vilna
10 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
The Abraham Sutzkever-Szmerke Kaczerginski Historical Collection contains letters, manuscripts, and historical documents which were saved by the Yiddish poets Avraham Sutzkever and Szmerke Kaczerginski in the Vilna Ghetto. Sutzkever, Kaczerginski, and other members of the Paper Brigade, conscripted Jewish workers who were forced to work under the Einsatzstab Rosenberg, saved thousands of books, manuscripts and documents at great risk to their lives by hiding them in various places in the Vilna Ghetto. After the war the surviving members recovered many of the hidden items. Sutzkever sent many of these rescued materials to the YIVO Institute in New York from the period 1947 to 1956. The collection consists of 8 series and includes correspondence of writers, intellectuals, communal leaders, rabbinical figures; manuscripts of Yiddish and Hebrew writers; theater documents; folklore materials; rabbinical responsa and writings; historical and legal documents; pinkasim and Jewish communal records.
Inventoried by YIVO archivists in the 1950s-1960s. In the 1980s Itsik Gottesman compiled the inventory into a Yiddish finding aid. Shmuel Klein translated the finding aid into English and enhanced it significantly with item-level description in 2009. The collection received further processing before being microfilmed in 2014. The finding aid was restored to folder-level for the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections. Several items were moved with each edition of the finding aid. A concordance can be found here.
- Strashun, Mathias, -1885 (Person)
- Sholem Aleichem, 1859-1916 (Person)
- S. Ansky Historical and Ethnographic Society (Organization)
- Rejzen, Zalman, 1887-1941 (Person)
- Reisen, Abraham, 1876-1953 (Person)
- An-Ski, S., 1863-1920 (Person)
- Birnbaum, Nathan, 1864-1937 (Person)
- Peretz, Isaac Leib, 1851 or 1852-1915 (Person)
- Herzl, Theodor, 1860-1904 (Person)
- Nomberg, Hersh David, 1876-1927 (Person)
- Perl, Joseph, 1773-1839 (Person)
- Ettinger, Solomon, 1803-1856 (Person)
- Mapu, Abraham, 1808-1867 (Person)
- Mendele Mokher Sefarim, 1835-1917 (Person)
- Dineson, Jacob, 1856-1919 (Person)
- Eldad, ha-Dani, active 9th century (Person)
- Luria, David ben Judah, 1798-1855 (Person)
- Abraham Sutzkever-Szmerke Kaczerginski Historical Collection
- Originally processed by YIVO Archives staff in the 1950s and 1960s. Originally described in Yiddish by Itsik Gottesman in the 1980s. Materials further processed and described in English by Rabbi Shmuel Klein in 2009. Finding aid encoded and materials prepared for microfilming and black-and-white digitization by Rabbi Shmuel Klein with the assistance of Fruma Mohrer in 2014.
- © 2014
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Processed, conserved and digitized as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project (2015-2022). Earlier work funded by the Fondation pour la Memoire de la Shoah (2009) and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC (2009). Microfilming and black-and-white digitization funded by the Nathan Ruderman Foundation, Inc. (2014).
- Edition statement
- This edition was prepared for ArchivesSpace by Jessica Podhorcer in 2020.
- 2018: Further described, processed and prepared for color digitization by Rabbi Shmuel Klein with the assistance of Ettie Goldwasser and Moriah Kennedy.
- 2020: Edited and transfered to ArchivesSpace by Jessica Podhorcer