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YIVO - Vilna Administration Records

Identifier: RG 1.1

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains material documenting the administrative functions and activities of YIVO in Vilna from its founding in 1925 to its dissolution in 1941, as well as records of YIVO sections and societies around the world during the same period.

Series I pertains to YIVO’s early, organizational period and Series II documents its two conventions. These series contain minutes, reports, and circulars.

Series III, the largest single section, consists of administrative records, office policies and paperwork, financial reports and ledgers, and correspondence arranged by name, town, and country. The folders of correspondence – Subseries 2, Subseries 3, and Subseries 4 - vary immensely in quantity of content – with some locations constituting merely one or two letters, while other locations have multiple overfilled folders.

Individuals and organizations represented in Subseries 3 may also be found in other sections – Rudolf Glanz, for example, appears in Folder 19 as well as Folders 377 and 378, which contain correspondence from Austria. Correspondents may have traveled or moved over the course of YIVO’s operations, and therefore have correspondence in various folders. With few exceptions, correspondents are not exhaustively identified in the container list, although significant correspondents have been highlighted as examples. Correspondence with Amopteyl, the American Friends of YIVO Society, and its members can be found in Subseries 2, Subseries 4 in Folders 433-443, and in Series X Subseries 3. Correspondence with Germany, though similar to the material found in Subseries 4, has been separated into Series IX.

Series IV contains records of various YIVO committees, divisions, and departments, distinct from the records of YIVO’s major constituent Sections which can be found in Series VII. Series IV includes records of the Building Committee and the YIVO building at 18 Wiwulski Street; the Audit Commission and fundraising campaigns; exhibitions; multiple cultural archival initiatives including a music archive, a short-lived Art Museum, and the Esther Rachel Kaminska Theater Museum; the Aspirantur; the Division of Youth Research (yugnt forshung); the library and archive; YIVO publications such as Yedies fun YIVO and YIVO bleter.

Series V contains clippings of Yiddish and Polish newspaper articles about YIVO. Minutes, correspondence, reports, fundraising lists, notes, and other records of Friends of YIVO Societies in Vilna, Warsaw, and Łódź can be found in Series VI.

Of YIVO’s four main sections, three are represented in RG 1.1, in Series VII. These are the Economics and Statistics, Psychology and Education, and Philological sections. Each section is accorded a subseries which contains minutes, reports, correspondence, manuscripts, notes, surveys, and other records. Excluded are the records of the Ethnographic Committee, a subsection of the Philological Section, which can be found in RG 1.2.

Series VIII parallels the collection as a whole but pertains specifically to the period between September 1939 and June 1941. It incorporates minutes, reports, correspondence, financial reports, news clippings, publications, and records of YIVO activities during this time.

Series IX, in addition to correspondence with individuals and organizations in Germany, includes reports of forced translation labor carried out workers in the YIVO building under the Nazis.

The records of Amopteyl in Series X include minutes; invitations, schedules, reports, publicity and press, and lectures from Amopteyl’s annual conferences; correspondence with the Executive Office in Vilna, individuals, and organizations; minutes, reports, correspondence, and publications of constituent committees and circles; invitations to events; lists and records of fundraising campaigns; financial reports and subscriber lists; newspaper clippings. Also found in Series X is material relating to YIVO in New York which was included in the exhibition "YIVO and its Founders" in 1975. Many items from that exhibit were subsequently added to the boxes which comprised the unproccessed addendum in the earlier finding aid for this collection. A full list of how the exhibit items in those boxes have been dispersed can be found here.

Series XI, Financial Records, contains invoices, receipts, payroll records, and reimbursement forms. Formal financial statements and accounting records can be found in Series III Subseries 5 and Series VIII Subseries 4.


  • 1912-1948
  • Majority of material found within 1925-1941

Language of Materials

The collection is in Yiddish, Polish, German, English, Russian, Hebrew, 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

YIVO was founded in 1925 in Vilna, Poland. The idea of creating an academic institution dedicated to the study of Yiddish and East European Jewish culture was first expressed by the linguist Nahum Shtif in a memorandum Organizatsye fun der yidisher visnshaft (Organization of Jewish Scholarship, Berlin, 1924). His suggestion drew the attention of Jewish scholars in Berlin and also in Vilna, then an important center of Yiddish cultural activity.

On March 24, 1925, at a conference in Vilna of Jewish cultural organizations, Dr. Max Weinreich, a Yiddish linguist, was asked to prepare a statement of principles and an organizational outline for the future institute. At a second conference, which took place in Berlin on August 7-12, 1925, Weinreich's outline was accepted. A resolution was approved to begin preparations for the establishment of the new organization, to be called the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut (known in English as the Yiddish Scientific Institute, and also by its Yiddish acronym, YIVO). The city of Vilna was spontaneously chosen by the organizers as the seat of the new institute, although no formal resolution was passed on this matter. In addition to Shtif and Weinreich, the organizing committee included Elias Tcherikower, Zalman Reisen and Jacob Lestschinsky.

The new institute was organized in the following manner: A general membership convention approved the institutional by-laws, appointed a Central Board, and planned long-range programs. Two such conventions took place in Vilna, in 1929 and in 1935. The Central Board, whose first chairman was Tsemah Szabad carried out the executive functions, and appointed the members of the Executive Office which managed the Institute's daily affairs. The Executive Office consisted of Max Weinreich, Zelig Kalmanovitch and Zalman Reisen. The Honorary Board of Trustees (Curatorium) was chaired by Simon Dubnow, and its members were Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Moses Gaster, Edward Sapir and Chaim Zhitlowsky.

The work of the YIVO Institute was carried out by four sections: Philology, History, Economics and Statistics, Psychology and Education. The sections were chaired, respectively, by Max Weinreich, Elias Tcherikower, Jacob Lestschinsky and Leibush Lehrer. In addition, a number of research commissions were organized, such as the Ethnographic Commission, Terminology Commission and Historical Commission on Poland. To support its research work YIVO established a library and archives, and also a Bibliographical Center for the purpose of creating a comprehensive bibliography of new Yiddish publications.

The aims of the YIVO Institute were formulated as follows: to serve as the center for organized research into all aspects of Jewish history and culture; to train Jewish scholars; to gather library and archival source materials relevant to YIVO's scholarly objectives; to develop a broad base of support for the Institute in Jewish communities around the world.

In the fifteen years between its establishment and destruction by the Nazis, YIVO experienced rapid growth and earned great respect as a leading center for the Jewish humanities. In Poland, YIVO became an authority in all matters concerning Yiddish culture. Association with YIVO was sought after not only by scholars but also by great numbers of people from all walks of life, who saw their work for YIVO as a fulfillment of their aspirations. In the 1920s and 1930s Friends of YIVO Societies existed in Poland, the Baltics, Germany, France, England, Belgium, North and South America, South Africa, and Palestine. The American branch of YIVO, known as Amopteyl (short for Amerikaner opteylung), was organized as early as 1925 by the historian Jacob Shatzky. The primary function of the Societies was to solicit support and organize fundraising events, as the perpetually impoverished organization required substantial and was often unable to pay its staff. YIVO also involved its large numbers of societies and friends in collecting publications and documentation for its library and archives and participating in research surveys and field work. YIVO volunteer zamlers, or collectors, documented and acquired valuable documentation from around the world, and sent it to YIVO. Some YIVO departments benefited greatly from the work of these collectors, notably the Ethnographic Commission, the Terminology Commission, and most of all, the Archives.

A system was developed not only to keep in touch with collectors, but also supervise their work and channel their enthusiasm in the right direction. Collectors were instructed to carry out historical and economic surveys, to gather oral folklore and linguistic samples, and to conduct field work needed for various research projects. The main objective of these collecting activities was to create a solid documentary base for the study of contemporary Jewish life. Reflecting the spirit of Zeitgeschichte, YIVO focused its interest on the Jewish present, specifically on the political and economic conditions of the Jewish populations of Eastern Europe during the critical inter-war period.

In 1935, a graduate training division, the Aspirantur, was added to existing YIVO departments. Named in honor of Tsemah Szabad, the first YIVO Chairman, the Aspirantur's goal was to educate scholars who wished to work in Jewish studies. The Proaspirantur developed in 1938 in order to train students who did not yet possess the educational background to become aspirantn.

YIVO strongly emphasized the need to publish works of its affiliate scholars. Each of YIVO's four sections published its own proceedings. YIVO's list of publications included the periodicals Filologishe shriftn, Psikhologishe shriftn, Yidishe ekonomik, Yidish far ale, YIVO bleter and numerous monographs, yearbooks, essays and articles. By 1941, the bibliography of YIVO publications included over 2500 items.

After the outbreak of World War II, YIVO continued its work in Vilna, at first under the Lithuanian and later under Soviet rule. Gradually, the Institute was merged into the Soviet cultural system and was forced to conduct its work in accordance with the new ideology. In August 1940 the Society Friends of YIVO was liquidated. In October 1940 YIVO became part of the Institute of Lithuanian Studies and its name was changed to the Third Museum and Library of the Institute of Lithuanian Studies. In January 1941, YIVO was made part of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania and its name was changed to "Institute for Jewish Culture." During this time period until January 1941 YIVO was headed by Moshe Lerer, a former YIVO archivist who was named the curator of the Institute by the Soviet authorities. Of the old leadership, Zalman Reisen was arrested and deported to Russia where he perished, and Zelig Kalmanovitch was removed from his post. In January 1941, Noah Prylucki, a prominent linguist and member of the pre-war YIVO Executive Committee who had been appointed Yiddish Chair at the University of Vilnius only a year before, was named the director of the reorganized institute.

Despite all these changes, the YIVO Library and Archives were left intact by the Soviet authorities. The library was even substantially enlarged by the addition of 20,000 new volumes.

With the outbreak of the Soviet-German war in June 1941, and the subsequent occupation of Vilna by the Nazis, the existence of the YIVO Institute in Vilna came to an end. Its collections were either dispersed or sent to Germany. The YIVO staff incarcerated in the Vilna Ghetto met their deaths prior to or during the final liquidation of the ghetto. Among the victims were: Zelig Kalmanovitch, who perished in the concentration camp in Klooga, Estonia together with Moshe Lerer; Uma Olkienicka, director of the YIVO Theater Museum; and Noah Prylucki. Simon Dubnow was killed in Riga, Latvia, on December 1, 1941. The historians Ignacy Schiper and Emanual Ringelblum, the economist Menachem Linder, and the folklorist Shmuel Lehman, all perished in Warsaw. Many other YIVO associates, collectors and friends shared their fate.

Adapted from the introduction to Guide to the YIVO Archives, Marek Web (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1998.)


19.1 Linear Feet (49 boxes, 841 folders)


Record Group 1.1, the primary collection of records from the period when YIVO was headquartered in Vilna, reflects the wide range of activities YIVO engaged in from 1925-1941. Founded as an institute for the study of Yiddish speaking Jewry, YIVO grew to become a research institute, library, archive, and graduate program in one. The collection consists primarily of administrative material such as correspondence, financial records, minutes, reports, lists, and newspaper clippings, as well as essays and publications of the Aspirantur, Division of Youth Research, and the Economic-Statistical, Psychological-Pedagogical, and Philological sections. It incorporates material generated by the Vilna office, satellite offices in Berlin, Warsaw, and New York, and by supporters and collectors throughout Poland, Europe, and indeed the world.


The entire collection is divided into 11 series, which relate to the structure of YIVO.

Series I: Organizing Committee, 1925-1928
Series II: Conventions, 1929-1935
Series III: YIVO Administration, 1924-1940
Subseries 1: Administrative Records, 1928-1939
Subseries 2: Correspondence, Arranged by Name, 1913-1940
Subseries 3: Correspondence, Arranged by Town, 1925-1941
Subseries 4: Correspondence, Arranged by Country, 1921-1940
Subseries 5: Office Policies, Finances, Paperwork, 1925-1940
Series IV: Departments and Activities, 1926-1942
Subseries 1: Building Committee, 1928-1942
Subseries 2: Audit Commission, 1928-1939
Subseries 3: Exhibitions, 1928-1938
Subseries 4: Museums, 1928-1939
Subseries 5: Aspirantur, 1934-1940
Subseries 6: Division of Youth Research, 1912-1939
Subseries 7: Library and Archive, 1928-1941
Subseries 8: Publications and Pamphlets, 1926-1939
Series V: Press Clippings, 1925-1939
Series VI: Friends of YIVO Societies, 1926-1939
Series VII: Sections, 1925-1941
Subseries 1: Economic-Statistical Section, 1926-1941
Subseries 2: Psychological-Pedagogical Section, 1926-1940
Subseries 3: Philological Section, 1925-1940
Series VIII: Soviet-Lithuanian Period, 1939-1941
Subseries 1: Administrative Records, 1939-1941
Subseries 2: Activities, 1939-1940
Subseries 3: Correspondence, 1939-1941
Subseries 4: Financial Records and Lists, 1939-1941
Subseries 5: Clippings and Publications, 1939-1940
Series IX: Germany Correspondence, 1926-1945
Series X: The American Branch of YIVO (Amopteyl), 1924-1948
Subseries 1: Administrative Records, 1925-1941
Subseries 2: General Conferences, 1930-1941
Subseries 3: Correspondence, 1924-1940
Subseries 4: Committees and Circles, 1929-1940
Subseries 5: Publications, 1927-1942
Subseries 6: Activities, 1929-1939
Subseries 7: Financial Records, 1928-1935
Subseries 8: Press Clippings, 1928-1939
Subseries 9: YIVO in New York, 1935-1948
Series XI: Financial Records, 1927-1940

Other Finding Aid

There is an original Yiddish-language finding aid.

Acquisition Information

These records were among the Jewish collection looted by the Einsatzstab Rosenberg in Vilna under the Nazis and brought to Germany in 1942. Placed after the war in the U.S. military Offenbach Archival Depot, they were returned to the YIVO in New York in 1947.

Related Material

This collection constitutes one part of RG 1, the Records of YIVO in Vilna. The other parts, RG 1.2 and RG 1.3, contain materials from the Ethnographic Committee and Aspirantur respectively. Documents of the Historical Section can be found in the Elias Tcherikower Archive, RG 82. RG 100 contains material related to the American Section of YIVO, known as Amopteyl, and YIVO’s administrative records from 1940 to the present.

Guide to the YIVO - Vilna Administration Records 1912-1948 (bulk 1925-1941) RG 1.1
Originally processed by Shloyme Krystal in 1991. Materials further processed, described, prepared for digitization and finding aid encoded by Jessica Podhorcer in 2015.
Language of description
Script of description
Processed, conserved and digitized as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project (2015-2022). Additional work funded by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Claims Conference) (2016). Earlier work funded by the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (2012).

Revision Statements

  • March 2017: dao links for folders 1-159b added by Leanora Lange.
  • May 2017: dao links for folders 160-500 added by Leanora Lange.
  • May 16, 2017: dao links for folders 501-600 added by Leanora Lange.
  • May 25, 2017: dao links for folders 601-700 added by Leanora Lange.
  • June 19, 2017: dao links for folders 701-826 added by Leanora Lange.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States