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Papers of Nokhem Shtif

Identifier: RG 57

Scope and Content Note

The collection comprises papers of Nokhem Shtif, including manuscripts of his writings, correspondence, research materials, and, in great part, materials related to his work at the Kiev-based Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture, which he helped to establish, and where he subsequently directed the Philological Section, and taught courses in Yiddish stylistics.

Series I contains typed and handwritten manuscripts by Shtif of scholarly articles, political and cultural writings, and book reviews.

Series II consists of incoming and outgoing correspondence related to Shtif's general scholarly and cultural activities, spanning the years 1920 to 1930, with a few items (after 1926) pertaining to his work at the Division for Jewish Culture at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Kiev. The extant incoming items evidently represent only a small fraction of Shtif's correspondence over this time (see reference to Moyshe Shalit's 1933 article on Shtif's archive, in the "Custodial History" note).

Series III comprises materials related to Shtif's work at the Division for Jewish Culture at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Kiev, later known as the Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture, including departmental meeting minutes; correspondence; reports (some pertaining to the entire Division for Jewish Culture, in the period 1928-1929, others related to the Philological Section and to Shtif's teaching of Yiddish stylistics courses); departmental planning documents for courses and other activities; documents related to the Institute's periodicals and conferences; manuscripts related to addresses/speeeches by Shtif; materials related to the teaching of courses, including work plans/syllabi, notes, attendance lists, student minutes of class meetings (lecture notes), and student papers; and newspaper clippings, announcements, and ephemera.

Series IV contains materials related to Shtif's research concerning the Yiddish lexicographer Y. M. Lifshits (1829-1878), including correspondence; memoirs by Lifshits's children and others who had personal knowledge of him; notes and articles/excerpts; and transcriptions of Lifshits's works.

Series V contains various other research materials, including transcriptions of Old Yiddish works, and excerpts and notes on various linguistic, literary, and cultural topics.


  • 1910-1934


Language of Materials

The collection is in Yiddish, with some Russian, Ukrainian, Hebrew, German, and Polish.

Access Restrictions

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

Use Restrictions

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Biographical Note

Nokhem Shtif was born in Rovno, Volhynia (today Rivne, Ukraine) on 29 (old calendar: 17) November 1879 to a prosperous family. Until the age of his bar mitzvah he learned privately with various melamdim (Jewish religious school teachers). He later attended a real-gymnasium (university preparatory secondary school) and the Kiev Polytechnic University, where he was enrolled between 1899 and 1903, while still continuing to study religious and modern Hebrew literature.

Following the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, Shtif became an ardent Zionist. In 1902 he helped establish the radical student Zionist organization Molodoy Izrail (Young Israel) in Kiev, and took part in the Minsk Conference of Russian Zionists. In his first article, which he wrote in Russian and presented at meetings in Kiev and Warsaw in 1902 (but did not succeed in publishing), Shtif "pioneered an ideological concept later employed by the Zionist Socialist Party: emigration and colonization as a means of creating a Jewish proletariat, which, according to Shtif, could not exist in the repressive environment of Russia" (Estraikh).

After the Kishinev pogrom in spring 1903, Shtif played a leading role in a Jewish self-defense effort in Kiev. In the fall, he, Ben-Adir, and Vladimir Fabrikant were among the co-founders of the Jewish socialist group Vozrozhdenie (Renaissance). That November Shtif was arrested for his political activities and imprisoned for several months, during which time he was expelled from the Kiev Polytechnic University.

From late 1904 until early 1906, Shtif lived in Switzerland, mostly in Bern, where he organized a local Vozrozhdenie group and agitated against the Bund. In April 1906, with other activists from Vozrozhdenie, he founded the Jewish Socialist Labor Party in Kiev. Its members, also known as Sejmists, sought Jewish national autonomy in Russia. In 1906-1907, he was active in the Sejmist party in Kiev, Vilna, Vitebsk, and Simferopol.

In summer 1907 Shtif married Devoyre (Deborah) Zilberfarb, of Rovno (sister of Moyshe Zilberfarb, another co-founder of Vozrozhdenie). The couple settled initially in Vilna. They had two daughters, Esther, born in fall 1910, and Ida, born in spring 1914.

In fall 1907 Shtif moved to St. Petersburg, where he published articles on literary criticism and politics in Russian and Yiddish periodicals. He participated in the Jewish Literary Society, as well the Hevrah Mefitsei Haskalah (Society for the Promotion of Culture Among the Jews of Russia), and became a committed Yiddishist. In 1909 he took a position in the emigration department of the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA). The same year he began studies at the Demidov Law Lyceum in Yaroslavl (Galicia); he completed a dissertation on criminal rights according to the Torah of Moses and the Talmud, and received his diploma in 1914.

In fall 1910, Shtif moved back to Rovno, where he worked at a Jewish bank and contributed to various periodicals, usually under the pseudonym "Bal-Dimyen" (Dreamer). In March 1914 he moved to Vilna, where for approximately six months he was an editor for modern Yiddish literature at the Kletzkin publishing house, until the outbreak of the First World War brought the firm's work to a halt. In 1915 he served as a co-editor, with Shmuel Niger and Zelig Kalmanovitch, of the short-lived Vilna periodical Di vokh (The Week).

From August 1915 through 1918, Shtif lived in St. Petersburg, working for the Jewish aid organization YEKOPO (Evreiskii Komitet Pomoshchi Zhertvam Voiny; Jewish Committee to Aid Victims of the War), and editing its journal. He was again active in Hevrah Mefitsei Haskalah, mainly in the school committee, and helped to institute Yiddish as the language of instruction in Jewish schools. In 1917, after the February Revolution, Shtif, along with Joseph Tshernikhov, Israel Efroykin, and others, was a co-founder of the revived Folkspartey (People's Party).

In 1918, Shtif moved to Kiev, where he was active in YEKOPO and also devoted himself to journalism. His writings at this time, including the pamphlet Yidn un yidish, oder ver zaynen "yidishistn" un vos viln zey? (Jews and Yiddish, or Who Are the "Yiddishists" and What Do They Want?; 1919) "concerned the Jews’ future in the postwar world, which Shtif envisioned as a brotherhood of nations that included Jews as an autonomous national collective with a highly developed Yiddish culture" (Estraikh). Following the wave of pogroms in Ukraine in 1918-1919, Shtif assisted in efforts to aid victims and worked together with Elias Tcherikower and others in the Editorial Committee (redaktyons-kolegye) for the collection and publication of documents on the pogroms.

When the Bolsheviks occupied Kiev in October 1920, Shtif moved to Minsk, where, for some months, he and Zelig Kalmanovitch gave lectures on Yiddish in Jewish teachers' courses. After that, he spent nearly a year in Kovno (Kaunas), a stronghold of the Folkspartey, where, with other Russian Yiddish writers, including Kalmanovitch, Dovid Bergelson, Ben-Adir, and Der Nister, he contributed to the daily Nayes (News), edited by A. Mukdoni.

In March 1922, Shtif settled in Berlin, where he immersed himself in researching Yiddish language and literature, especially Old Yiddish literature, a research interest he had first pursued in the collections of the Asiatic Museum in St. Petersburg in 1908, and later in archives in Kiev, in 1919-1920. His pamphlet Humanizm in der elterer yidisher literatur (Humanism in Old Yiddish Literature) was published in Kiev in 1920 and reprinted in Berlin in 1922. His book on the pogroms in Ukraine was also published in Berlin, both in Russian (Pogromy na Ukraine), in 1922, and in Yiddish (Pogromen in Ukraine), in 1923.

Shtif played a key role in the founding of the Yiddish Scientific Institute (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut, or YIVO), in 1925. In October 1924, he wrote and circulated a memorandum entitled, "Vegn a yidishn akademishn institut" (About a Yiddish Academic Institute), in which he argued that the creation of an academic institute was the next logical step in the growth of Yiddish culture, and outlined a general structure similar to that eventually adopted by YIVO, with four scholarly sections (for philology, Jewish history, social and economic issues, and pedagogy), a library, and a bibliographic center, for collecting and documenting Yiddish publications. The strongest support for Shtif's plan came from Yiddish cultural leaders in Vilna, including Max Weinreich and Zalman Reisen. On 24 March 1925, a meeting held jointly by the Central Education Committee (Tsentrale Bildungs Komitet, or TSBK), the Vilna branch of the Central Yiddish School Organization (Yidishe Shul Organizatsye, or TSYSHO) and the Vilna Education Society (Vilner Bildungs Gezelshaft, or VILBIG) endorsed Shtif's plan and appointed a committee to consider it in detail; subsequently, the two organizations published Shtif's memorandum, along with a response written by Weinreich, in the pamphlet Di organizatsye fun der yidisher visnshaft (The Organization of Yiddish Scholarship; Vilna, April 1925). In the following months Shtif was active as a member of YIVO's Organizing Committee, which held a preliminary conference in Berlin in August 1925; the headquarters of the new institute was eventually established in Vilna.

In spring 1926, drawn by the prospect of state-sponsored Jewish cultural development in the Soviet Union, Shtif accepted an invitation to oversee the Chair or Division for Jewish Culture at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in Kiev, which by late 1929 became known as the Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture. For a short time, he directed the Kiev Institute, but later headed only its philological section, while his colleague Yoysef Liberberg, head of the history section, and a Communist Party member, became the director.

At the Division for Jewish Culture, Shtif launched and edited a professional Yiddish-language philological journal, Di yidishe shprakh (The Yiddish Language; 1926-1930); in 1931 the journal was reestablished as Afn shprakhfront (On the Language Front), which Shtif also edited, until his death.

Shtif continued to publish articles on the history of Yiddish literature and language, on language planning, on the development of Yiddish spelling, and on issues of stylistics. His views in the area of language planning were sometimes criticized for tendencies of bourgeois Yiddishism. On the other hand, his 1929 article "Di sotsyale diferentsiatsye in yidish: di hebreyishe elementn in der shprakh” (Social Differentiation in Yiddish: The Hebrew Elements in the Language) – in which he argued that Yiddish words and forms derived from Hebrew and Aramaic were a function of class and increasingly redundant in the context of Soviet society – prompted a strong rebuttal from Max Weinreich, head of YIVO's philological section, who viewed the analysis as distorted by an ideological preconception.

Shtif died in Kiev on 7 April 1933.


Estraikh, Gennady. "Shtif, Nokhem." YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. New York: Yale University Press, 2008; online edition, 2010.

Estraikh, Gennady. Soviet Yiddish: Language Planning and Linguistic Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Flinker, David, et al., ed. Di yidishe prese vos iz geven (The Yiddish Press that Was). Tel-Aviv: Veltfarband fun di Yidishe Zhurnalistn (World Union of Yiddish Journalists), 1975. pp. 449, 464, 473.

Gottesman, Itzik Nakhmen. Defining the Yiddish Nation: The Jewish Folklorists of Poland. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003.

Kuznitz, Cecile. YIVO and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture: Scholarship for the Yiddish Nation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Schaechter, Mordkhe, and Gennady Estraikh. "Shtif, Nokhem." Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.

"Shtif, Nokhem." Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur (Biographical Dictionary of Modern Yiddish Literature). Vol. 8. New York: Congress for Jewish Culture, 1981.

Shtif, Nokhem. "Oytobyografye fun Nokhem Shtif" (The Autobiography of Nokhem Shtif). YIVO bleter, vol. 5 (1933), pp. 195-225.

Wolfthal, Maurice. Introduction. The Pogroms in Ukraine, 1918-19: Prelude to the Holocaust, by Nokhem Shtif, trans. by Wolfthal (Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2020), pp. 1-10.


1.3 Linear Feet (3 boxes, 60 folders)


This collection contains papers of Nokhem Shtif, a Yiddish philologist, editor, literary historian, translator, and political activist, and one of the founders of the YIVO Institute in Vilna. The bulk of the materials pertains to Yiddish language, philology, and literature, as well as to the administration and activities of the Kiev-based Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture, especially the Philological Section, which was directed by Shtif. The materials include manuscripts of Shtif's writings and speeches; correspondence; reports; meeting minutes; departmental planning documents and course programs/syllabi; materials related to Shtif's teaching of Yiddish stylistics courses; newspaper clippings; several manuscripts of articles and research works by other scholars; and notes, transcriptions, and other research materials, including memoirs related to the lexicographer Y. M. Lifshits.


The collection is arranged in the following series:

  1. Writings, 1910, 1923-1932
  2. Correspondence, 1920-1929
  3. Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture, 1926-1934
  4. Research on Y. M. Lifshits, undated, 1927-1929
  5. Other Research Materials, Notes, Miscellaneous, undated, 1914-1915, 1924-1932

Other Finding Aids

The original handwritten Yiddish-language finding aid prepared by Ezekiel Lipschutz, circa 1950, for YIVO Record Group 3, Collection of Yiddish Literature and Language – which at that time included the present papers of Nokhem Shtif – is on file at YIVO, as well as an English translation of it, prepared by Chava Lapin and Rivka Schiller, in 2007-2008.

The version of the finding aid encoded by Rachel Harrison in 2012 used the folder numbers originally assigned to the Shtif materials when it was part of RG 3 (Folders 3022 to 3080). During the processing for the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project, the folders were newly arranged and numbered sequentially; attached is a concordance of old and new folder numbers, which also details items that were shifted among folders.

Custodial History

The papers most likely derive from the Kiev-based Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture, where Shtif was active at the time of his death; the precise custodial history is unclear. (The Institute was dissolved in 1936, and was succeeded by a smaller entity, the Office for the Study of Yiddish Literature, Language, and Folklore, which, upon the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, was evacuated eastward to Ufa, Bashkiria, along with the rest of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, and returned to Kiev in 1944.) The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, a Nazi unit charged with the looting and disposition of Jewish cultural property in the occupied countries, operated in the Soviet Union in 1942-1943. The looted property was then sent to Germany. After the war, looted Jewish materials were gathered in the Offenbach archival depot by the U.S. Army. During this period, Shtif’s papers were mixed with archival materials that had belonged to YIVO in Vilna prior to the Second World War. The YIVO Institute in New York recovered its Vilna archives and library in 1947.

It should be noted that in an article written shortly after Shtif's death in 1933, Moshe Shalit, of Vilna (who was associated with YIVO), describes a Shtif archive that was then being sorted and organized.1 He gives an overview of a substantial collection of materials (in three groupings, manuscripts, correspondence, and newspaper clippings), evidently mostly or entirely dating from before Shtif's 1926 move to Kiev, with mention of a few specific items that appear to correspond to items found in the present papers: letters from A. Golomb, of the Yidisher Lerer Seminar, Vilna, concerning a subsidy for the school; and two manuscripts, "A bletl idishe kultur-geshikhte in rusland (1923; 34 pages) and "Volf Kamrash un der 'ershter yidisher spektakl' in Rusland" (part 2, submitted to "Tsaytshrift," Minsk, in 1925).


  1. Shalit, Moyshe. "Der arkhiv fun Nokhem Shtif." Literarishe bleter (Warsaw). 4 August 1933, pp. 495-496; 11 August 1933, pp. 512-513.

Related Material

The Papers of Nokhem Shtif were originally part of the YIVO Yiddish Literature and Language Collection (RG 3), with which they share a provenance; that collection contains other materials from the Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture (Subseries III.2), including a few items authored by Shtif (correspondence, Folders 3239, 3245; work plan of the Philological Section, November 1931–December 1932, Folder 3240). Another collection, Institute for Proletarian Yiddish Culture Records (RG 1522), contains additional materials related to the Institute.

Shtif's correspondence is represented in YIVO collections of the following individuals: B. J. Bialostotzky (RG 479), Yehude Leyb Cahan (RG 202), Abraham Liessin (RG 201), Kalman Marmor (RG 205), Alexander Mukdoni (RG 227), and Joseph Opatoshu (RG 436). Correspondence by Shtif is also found in the Abraham Sutzkever-Szmerke Kaczerginski Historical Collection (RG 223.2) and the Tcherikower Archive/YIVO Administration Records (RG 82).

The Mizrakh Yidisher Historisher Arkhiv (RG 80), Series V (Editorial Board), contains manuscripts by Shtif and other materials pertaining to his participation, with Elias Tcherikower, in efforts to collect and publish documentation on the pogroms in Ukraine following the First World War.

Processing Information

The current collection was originally part of YIVO's Record Group 3, Collection of Yiddish Literature and Language, for which Ezekiel Lifschutz prepared a Yiddish-language finding aid, circa 1950; that finding aid was translated from the Yiddish by Chava Lapin and edited by Rivka Schiller, in 2007-2008. The Papers of Nokhem Shtif, which comprised Folders 3022 to 3080, were removed from RG 3, circa 2011, so that they now form a separate record group, RG 57. In January 2012, Rachel S. Harrison, under a joint initiative of YIVO and the Center for Jewish History, completed additional processing of RG 57 and created an electronic finding aid.

In 2020, during processing for the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project, the collection was newly examined and arranged in series, based on broad categories of materials reflected in the previous finding aid, and the folders were renumbered sequentially. Although the contents of folders were kept largely intact, some items were shifted among folders in order to create a more coherent arrangement. Some fragments of documents that had become separated from each other were reunited, and related documents brought together. (A concordance of old and new folder numbers is available under "Other Finding Aids.")

Guide to the Papers of Nokhem Shtif (1879-1933), 1910-1934 RG 57
Originally processed by Ezekiel Lipschutz in the 1950s. Translated and edited by Chava Lapin and Rivka Schiller in 2008. Materials further processed, described and finding aid encoded by Rachel S. Harrison in 2012. Materials further described and arranged, and prepared for digitization by Violet Lutz in 2021.
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 work funded by the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation (2008) and the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (2012).

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

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