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Collection of Yiddish Literature and Language

Identifier: RG 3

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains materials gathered in Europe relating to Yiddish literature in Europe and America during the 1920s and 1930s, including manuscripts, correspondence, and autobiographies from approximately 600 individual Yiddish writers. The materials originate from a variety of sources, including Zalman Reisen's research to revise and extend his Leksikon, the Union of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Vilna, authors' personal papers, and Yiddish academic institutions in the Soviet Union. This collection was arranged by YIVO archivists in New York in the 1950s. Most authors contributed only a few materials, usually a letter to Zalman Reisen or the Writer's Union, and a 1-2 page autobiography in the case of authors writing to Reisen. Occasionally they would contribute a manuscript of one of their works as well. In the cases of authors' personal papers, there are more diverse materials, sometimes including personal correspondence, journal entries, additional manuscripts or research notes in addition to professional correspondence and manuscripts. In the materials from the Soviet Union in Series III and IV, there are more articles, institutional records such as minutes and library records, and less personal correspondence. These series are not organized by author, but by subject. Detailed descriptions of the materials in the two primary groups of materials can be found below.

Series I and II

Series I, which comprises the bulk of the collection, consists of correspondence and manuscripts from over 600 different Yiddish writers and scholars. They fall into two primary groups: correspondence with Zalman Reisen, and correspondence with the Union of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Vilna. Materials that do not fall into either category are noted in the folder description, specifying separate origins when possible. Some smaller sources are also evident: some material originating in the Institute for Proletarian Culture in Kiev can be found in Series I, as well as material originating in other archives, notably the Sh. Ansky Ethnographic and Historical Institute. These materials are frequently of very high quality and historical significance. Series II consists of authors' personal papers, namely the papers of S. Ansky, Simon Horontshik, and Mendele Moykher Sforim.

Series III and IV

Series III consists of institutional records from Invayskult and the Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture, and manuscripts of research produced there. The Invayskult materials focus primarily on Yiddish publishing in the Soviet Union, while the Proletarian Culture materials range more widely, including notes on their graduate training program (the Aspirantur), bibliographies, minutes of the different sections, including the philological, literary, and historical, and manuscripts of articles and research papers on linguistics. In Series III and IV, there are administrative records from Invayskult and the Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture, including the records of the Aspirantur program at the Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture, and the publishing records of Invayskult. There are also bibliographies and research documents produced by these institutions on the Yiddish publishing industry in the Soviet Union. Series III is particularly rich in materials on publishing, and on Yiddish culture in the Ukraine, while Series IV has many materials on linguistics, including the dictionaries.

This is a composite collection, comprised of materials from many sources. See the folder descriptions for more information on the sources of the materials.


  • Creation: 1829-1944

Language of Materials

The collection is in Yiddish and Russian, with a significant minority of items in German, Polish, and Hebrew, as well as a few items in English, French, and Lithuanian.

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.

Historical Note

Zalman Reisen's Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese, un filologye

Zalman Reisen, editor of the Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese, un filologye, published in Vilna between 1926 and 1929, was the foremost literary biographer of his generation. This key reference work collected biographies and bibliographies of almost all the Yiddish writers of this important period, and served as a predecessor for the current standard in the field, the Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur (Eds. Shmuel Niger, Itsik Shatski, and Moyshe Shtarkman, Alveltlekhn yidishn kultur-kongres, 1956-1981). Almost as important as the sheer amount of information collected in these volumes (which filled four volumes of material collected entirely through Reisen's own bibliographic research and personal correspondence with authors) was Reisen's methodology, which strove for accuracy and objectivity in a contentious era marked by unreliable communication and political instability. In the foreward to the first volume, Reisen apologizes for being unable to include information from those writers who sent their biographies after the work had gone to the printer, as well as those he never heard from. He calls upon his readers to send him information about the Yiddish writers they know, particularly the lesser-known ones, to contribute corrections or additions to what appears in his Lekiskon. Reisen's dialogue with his readers created a work that represents the collective knowledge of his generation.

Reisen's plans for the Leksikon continually evolved throughout the project. Indeed, the Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese, un filologye was itself a continuation of a previous single volume reference work published in 1914. At first, the plan was for the Leksikon to comprise two volumes, the first spanning the first half of the alphabet, and the second to complete it.1 However, the amount of information gathered quickly required an expansion of the project, which culminated in the four-volume set that was published. In the introduction to the fourth and final published volume, Reisen outlines his plan for a fifth volume, that will contain updated and expanded information on the writers who he was unable to include in the four main volumes, as well as a sixth volume, that would be dedicated to Old Yiddish literature.2 Scholars (notably the Yiddish scholar Elias Shulman) have surmised that this collection contains the notes for the proposed fifth volume, which was never completed.

Union of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Vilna

The fareyn fun yidishe literatn un zhurnalistn in vilne “ Union of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Vilna, was a professional association, active in Vilna from 1916 until the outbreak of the second world war. Its membership comprised newspaper editors and writers employed in Yiddish-language publishing enterprises, and other Yiddish authors residing in Vilna. The union was founded in 1916 in wartime Vilna, but remained inactive until the end of the war. The union was revived in 1919 by S. Ansky who wrote by-laws of the new association. Ansky became its honorary chairman, and A. Waiter its secretary. In April 1919 Waiter was killed during a pogrom perpetrated by the Polish military. The leadership of the union was passed on to S. Niger and, after his departure to the U.S., to Zalman Reisen. In the subsequent years the post of the chairman was occupied by Reisen, S.L. Zitron, Moyshe Zilburg, Falk Halpern, Dan Kaplanovich, and Moyshe Shalit. A.I. Grodzenski served as the union's secretary for most of the time.

Among its activities, the union arranged for publication of books by its members, established a loan fund, introduced pensions for retired writers, organized strikes, conducted negotiations with publishers and newspaper owners, and arbitrated disputes between its members. The union maintained contacts with Poland's Union of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Warsaw as well as with regional unions. It was also instrumental in establishing a Yiddish Pen Club Center in Vilna and organizing a national conference of the Yiddish press in June of 1927. Finally, it maintained a well-stacked reading room for its membership.

The Union of Yiddish Writers and Journalist in Vilna was dissolved ca. 1940.

Soviet Yiddish Institutions

Invayskult, later known as the Jewish Division of the Belorussian Academy of Sciences, located in Minsk, and the Institute for Proletarian Culture, located at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in Kiev, were founded in 1924 and 1929 respectively, and were funded by the government, as part of the Soviet Union's policy of supporting minority ethnic groups. The Institute for Yiddish Proletarian Culture in Kiev (Rus., Institut Evreiskoi Proletarskoi Kulâtury; IEPK), was directed by Nokhem Shtif, and focused its research on philology. It was shut down in 1936. Both institutions had connections with YIVO. In the early years, Invayskult frequently corresponded with YIVO, and oriented their research toward Eastern European, and especially Lithuanian Jews, who were considered "Lithuanian-Belorussian." Nokhem Shtif, the director of the Institute for Proletarian Culture, was also a co-founder of YIVO.


1Leksikon vol. 1, Hakdome.

2Leksikon vol. 4, Hakdome.


Zalman Reisen. Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese, un filologye. 4 vols. Vilna: Vilna Farlag fun B. Kletzkin, 1927-1929.

Alfred A. Greenbaum. Jewish Historiography in Soviet Russia.Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 28 (1959): 57-76. Article Stable URL:

Vladimir Bilovitsky, "Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture,"


25.10 Linear Feet (72 boxes)


This collection consists of the correspondence of Zalman Reisen, and correspondence to the Union of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Vilna. In addition, it contains fragments of literary collections which were part of the YIVO Archives in Vilna before 1941 and of materials which originated in Jewish institutions of higher learning in the Soviet Union, specifically the Institut Far Yidisher Proletarisher Kultur (Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture) in Kiev and Invayskult in Minsk. The collection was formed in the YIVO Archives in New York ca. 1950. The bulk of the collection comprises files on about 600 Yiddish writers from Eastern Europe consisting of autobiographical notes and letters, biographies, bibliographies, manuscripts and typewritten copies, newspaper clippings, commemorative materials, announcements about lectures.


These series and subseries are arranged primarily by subject.

Series I: Correspondence and Manuscripts, 1829-1944
Series II: Literary Papers, 1916-1938
Subseries 1: S. Ansky, 1916-1928
Subseries 2: S. Horontshik, 1923-1938
Subseries 3: Mendele Moykher Sforim, 1926-1936
Subseries 4: Dovid Edelshtadt, undated
Series III: Soviet Yiddish Materials, 1918-1935
Subseries 1: Invayskult, 1925-1933
Subseries 2: Institute for Yiddish Proletarian Culture (Kiev), 1918-1935
Subseries 3: Materials on Yiddish Culture in the Soviet Union, 1921-1935
Series IV: Dictionaries and Linguistic Materials, 1829-1939
Subseries 1: Ukrainian Yiddish Dictionary, undated
Subseries 2: Russian-Yiddish Mathematical Dictionary, undated
Subseries 3: Soviet Yiddish Dictionary (incomplete), undated
Subseries 4: Linguistic Materials, 1829-1939

Other Finding Aid

There is a handwritten Yiddish finding aid prepared by Ezekiel Lipschutz, and a translation of that finding aid into English prepared by Chava Lapin and Rivka Schiller.

Acquisition Information

This collection consists of fragments of many literary collections which were part of the YIVO Archives in Vilna before 1941, and of materials which originated in Jewish institutions of higher learning in the Soviet Union, notably in the Institut Far Yidisher Proletarisher Kultur (Institute for Jewish Proletarian Culture) in Kiev. These fragments were among the materials belonging predominantly to theYIVO in Vilna, which were ransacked in 1942-1943 by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), a Nazi unit charged with the looting and disposition of Jewish cultural property in the occupied countries. The YIVO in New York recovered its Vilna archives and library in 1947. Record Group 3 is a segment of a larger block of the Vilna YIVO records within which all folders are numbered consecutively from #1 to the end. Record Group 3 begins at #1701 and continues through #3402.

Separated Material

The papers of Eliyahu Guttmacher, originally folders 1957-1965, can now be found in RG 27. The papers of Nokhem Shtif, originally folders 3022-3080a of this collection, were removed to constitute an independent record group, RG 57. Finally, the papers of Khaykl Lunski, folders 2311 to 2350a have been physically removed from RG 3 and are now located in Record Group 58.

Processing Information

This collection was re-assembled in the 1950s, mainly along the lines of a reference collection wherein documents from various individual collections which refer to Yiddish writers had been assembled in folders according to the writer's name. In re-processing this collection in 2012, the goal has been to enhance description and shed light on the origins of the materials, while preserving the current physical arrangement.

Guide to the Collection of Yiddish Literature and Language, 1829-1944, RG 3
Originally processed by Ezekiel Lipschutz in the 1950s. Translated and edited by Chava Lapin and Rivka Schiller in 2007. Materials further processed, described and finding aid encoded by Sarah Ponichtera in 2012. Materials prepared for digitization by Jessica Podhorcer in 2018.
© 2012
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 and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Claims Conference) (2016). Earlier work funded by the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation (2007) and the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (2012).

Revision Statements

  • July 12, 2017: container list updated by Sarah Ponichtera and dao links for folders 1701-1850 added by Leanora Lange.
  • July 19, 2017: dao links for folders 1851-2000 added by Leanora Lange.
  • July 25, 2017: dao links for folders 2001-2300 added by Leanora Lange.
  • August 24, 2017: dao links for folders 2301-2450 added by Leanora Lange.
  • September 4, 2017: dao links for folders 2451-2750 added by Leanora Lange.
  • September 15, 2017: dao link for folder 2623 fixed by Leanora Lange.
  • October 12, 2017: dao links for folders 2751-2900 added by Leanora Lange.
  • October 19, 2017: folder list updates by Sarah Ponichtera.
  • October 26, 2017: dao links for folders 2901-3200 added by Leanora Lange.
  • November 27, 2017: dao links for folders 3201-3402 added by Leanora Lange.
  • December 7, 2017: dao links for folders 3324-3329 fixed by Leanora Lange.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

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New York NY 10011 United States