Records of the Vilna Jewish Community Council
Scope and Content Note
The Vilna Kehillah archive includes documents related to the activities of the Vilna Jewish community board, the Kehillah and its auxiliary institutions, covering the period from 1800 to 1940. It mostly includes correspondence of the Kehillah with the authorities of the day-Russian, German, Polish; announcements of the Kehillah, lists of persons receiving charitable aid, materials on Kehillah elections, invoices from vendors and contractors, petitions from individuals, personal documents. The records are quite fragmentary with the bulk relating to the New Kehillah, in the interwar Poland.
The earliest pre-1844 Kehillah documents are related to the economic activities, litigations regarding the Kehillah real estate, sale of kosher meat, contacts with the local Russian authorities. Some of them bear the stamp of the S. Ansky Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Society, which suggests that at some point they were separated from the main Kehillah archive.
The Tsedakah Gedolah documents from1844 through 1915 relate to the administrative, financial and economics activities, hiring of rabbis and cantors, charity work, Jewish education matters, kosher meat tax, maintenance of buildings, cemeteries, and other property. Represented in the collection are documents and some minutes of the committees: Rabbinic, Charity, Cemetery, Financial, Administrative, Management, and Audit. The majority of the Tsedakah Gedolah documents consist of correspondence with Russian authorities on questions ranging from the care of the homeless Jewish orphans to the changes in Russian legislation concerning Jews in the Pale of Settlement.
The 1915-1919 period includes documents about distribution of the relief aid, mostly from the American and German Jewish sources. Tsedakah Gedolah played a significant role in the Central Relief Committee, and the documents of that Committee are represented in the collection. There are minutes of the administrative board meetings, lists of people receiving aid, correspondence with German occupation authorities.
The Kehilla elections on December 25, 1918, are represented by the Elections committee correspondence, campaign materials of the participating Jewish political parties and groups, lists of candidates, list of the New Kehillah council members. Important materials represent the catastrophic situation of Vilna Jews during the so called “Vilna dispute” by which name the conflict in 1919-1920 between Poland, Soviet Russia and Lithuania for the possession of Vilna is known. When the Bolsheviks came to Vilna, the Soviet power was established for three months and the Kehillah was shut down, its activities banned. As Vilna was taken over by the Polish army, a string of vicious pogroms and plundering took place that resulted in the deaths of many Jews. The revived Kehilla received hundreds of petitions from the victims, which are present in the collection. There is also some correspondence with the Lithuanian authorities which briefly ruled Vilna in 1920.
The later documents reflect relations of the New Kehillah with the Polish authorities through the interwar period. Records of the departments of the New Kehillah, include Managing committee, Personnel, Finance, Social Welfare, Children’s Welfare, Public Health, Education, Religious, and Legal departments. Many materials relate to the Kehillah health care institutions, especially the Zwierzyniec Children’s Hospital. A large number of documents define relations of the Vilna Kehillah with other Jewish community organizations throughout the Polish Republic. A significant body of documents covers the negotiations and drafting of agreements between the Tsedakah Gedolah supervisors and the New Kehillah authorities. The collection also includes documents of the Jewish Refugee Relief Committee, established at the beginning of World War II under the auspices of the Kehillah That committee functioned during1939-1940.
The Vilna Kehillah archive allows to study aspects and the mechanism of Jewish autonomy by illustrating the role of Jewish community institutions in Vilna., and to trace the treatment of the Jewish population by Russian and Polish rulers. It sheds light on the Jewish communal activities during extremely hard times of wars and occupations. It also allows glimpses into the everyday life of Jews in Vilna, their economic condition, and the state of their physical well-being. It ultimately illuminates almost all spheres of life of the Vilna Jews, from religion to health care, from education to nutrition. Noteworthy is the large volume of documents on the topic of the kosher meat-its production, taxation, distribution and consumption.
A number of documents relate to the activities of prominent personalities who resided in Vilna, such as Rabbi Chaim Oyzer Grodzienski (Grodzinski), Tsemakh Shabad, Jacob Wygodzki, Max Weinreich, Zalman Reisen, Khaykl Lunski and others.
The collection is a valuable source in genealogical research considering a great number of lists of population with names and birthdates indicated, and a large number of personal documents, some with photographs
- Vilna Jewish Community Council (Organization)
Language of Materials
Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, Polish, German.
The collection has been digitized and is available online without restrictions. The physical collection is closed.
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The city of Vilna began in 1323 as the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1596, following the Lublin Union, Vilna became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1795 it fell under the Russian domination in result of the Third Partition of Poland between Russia, Prussia, and Austria. During the World War I, starting in 1915 until the end of the war in 1918 Vilna was occupied by the German army. In 1920 Vilna was returned to independent Poland but was overrun by the Soviet armed forces in September1939. Occupied by the Nazi Germany in July 1941; liberated from the Germans and made capital of the Lithuanian S.S.R. in 1944; since 1991 the capital of Lithuania.
The Jews began moving to the vicinity of Vilna from Germany and Poland in the middle of the 15th century. However, only in 1593 did the Jewish newcomers receive a royal privilege from the Polish king Zygmunt II that enabled them to settle and trade in the city.
Beginning in the 16th century the Jewish community of Vilna, Lithuania, was governed by an autonomous administrative body, called Kehillah (or Kahal). After the partition of Poland in 1795, when Lithuania was annexed to the Russian Empire, the Kehillah steadily declined in power until it was abolished in 1844, along with all other community boards throughout the Russian empire. The Tsedakah Gedolah (Greater Charity Fund) which unofficially replaced the Kehillah performed mainly charitable and religious functions.
The Tsedakah Gedolah acted as a surrogate community organization with reduced scope of activities, and as a welfare fund, that took care of the cemetery, the Jewish hospitals, the Hekdesh (home for the aged), library, public baths, shelter for transients, distribution of matzot for Passover, firewood, weekly aid to the poor, and more. The official name for the Tsedakah Gedolah under the Russian rule was Vilenskoie Molitvennoie Upravlenie Glavnoi Sinagogi ( Vilna Religious Board of the Main Synagogue ), and during the German occupation of 1915-1918 Vilna Haupt-Synagogeverwaltung ( Administration of the Vilna Main Synagogue ).
The Tsedakah Gedolah was governed by a council, which consisted of eight committees-Rabbinic, Charitable, Cemetery, Financial, Administrative, Management, and Audit. After the retreat of the Russian forces in 1915 most of the Tsedakah Gedolah supervisors and board members fled into the Russian interior. To coordinate Jewish relief efforts, various Jewish institutions that remained in Vilna, united to establish the Central Relief Committee (Tsentrler hilfs-komitet), where Tsedakah Gedolah played a significant role.
At the end of 1918 the German military allowed the general election of the new Kehillah which took place on December 25. The so named New Kehillah (Yid. di Naye kehile) was thus restored in January 1919. Yet the Tsedakah Gedolah continued in its capacity as charity dispensing institution associated, as before, with the Main Synagogue. This duality of Vilna communal leadership persisted until 1935 when the Polish authorities forced both institutions to merge. The Vilna Kehillah was eventually dissolved in 1940 by the Soviets
10.9 Linear Feet
From the 16th century onward the Jewish community of Vilna was governed by an autonomous administrative body, called the Kehillah (or Kahal). Under the Russian domination (from 1794) the Kehillah steadily declined in power until the institution of Kahal was altogether abolished in 1844 by an imperial edict throughout the Russian empire. The Tsedakah Gedolah which replaced the former Kehillah in Vilna was limited to charitable and religious functions. In 1919, as Vilna became part of Poland, the Tsedakah Gedolah was replaced by an elected New Kehillah (Yid. Naye kehile). This institution was eventually dissolved in 1940 by the Soviet authorities. These are incomplete records of the Kehillah covering mainly the period of the Tzedakah Gedolah, 1844-1918, and the New Kehillah, 1919-1940. Some pre-1844 records are included. Originally part of the YIVO Archives in Vilna, only a third of the collection was recovered after World War II. Additional records of the Vilna Kehillah are in the custody of the Central Historical Archives in Vilnius, Lithuania. The collection relates to all three administrations, although records of the first "kahal" period cover only the years 1800-1844 and these are very sparse. The collection also includes numerous documents of the Jewish Refugee Relief Committee, established at the beginning of World War II under the auspices of the Kehillah. That committee functioned from 1939-1940.
The collection is divided in three series and a number of sub-series, according to the provenance and chronology of the documents.
- Series I: Tsedakah Gedolah (Russian official name: Vilenskoye Evreiskoye Molitvennoye Pravlenie Glavnoi Sinagogi)
- Subseries 1: Administrative documents of Tsedakah Gedolah
- Subseries 2: Kosher meat tax
- Subseries 3: Financial Records of the Tsedakah Gedolah
- Subseries 4: General Correspondence of Tsedakah Gedolah
- Subseries 5: Bequests to Tsedakah Gedolah
- Subseries 6: Religious, burial, and other community matters
- Subseries 7: Court cases related to the Tsedakah Gedolah
- Subseries 8: Military service matters
- Subseries 9: Property records of Tsedakah Gedolah
- Subseries 10: Passover aid and other charity matters
- Subseries 11: Merger of Tsedakah Gedolah and the New Kehillah
- Series II: The New Kehillah (Pol. Gmina Żydowska w Wilnie; Yid. Di Naye kehile, Hebrew: Ha kehillah Hayehudit beVilna)
- Subseries 1: Central Jewish Aid Committee (World War I)
- Subseries 2: Elections to the Kehillah
- Subseries 3: The Administrative Committee
- Subseries 4: Kehillah Personnel
- Subseries 5: Department of Finance
- Subseries 6: Department of Social Welfare
- Subseries 7: Department of Child Welfare
- Subseries 8: Department of Education and Culture
- Subseries 9: Department of Public Health
- Subseries 10: Department of Production and Economy
- Subseries 11: Department of Religious Affairs
- Subseries 12: Department of Legal Affairs
- Subseries 13: Department of Nutrition
- Subseries 14: Jewish Refugee Relief Committee
- Series III: Miscellaneous Materials
- Guide to the Records of Vilna Jewish Community Council
- Originally processed by YIVO Archives staff in the 1950s. Materials further processed and new finding aid created by Paul Radensky and Vital Zajka in 2002. Finding aid edited and encoded by Stanislav Pejša and Yakov Sklyar in 2007. Additional processing and editing by Jessica Podhorcer for EBYVOCP in 2021.
- © 2007
- 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 Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Claims Conference) (2002) and the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation (2007).
Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository
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