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Records of the YIVO - Vilna Aspirantur

Identifier: RG 1.3

Scope and Content Note

The records in Series I consist mainly of research papers on topics relating to Jewish life in Eastern Europe, which were prepared in fulfillment of course requirements. Topics include literary analyses of major literary figures such as Mendele Moykher-Sforim and Yisroel Axenfeld, descriptions of individual towns in Eastern Europe, statistical materials on economic life, including agriculture and the leather trade, and research on daily life, including household budgets and family diaries. Among the 60 program participants there are some who survived World War II and continued to be active in Jewish culture decades later. These are the poet and publisher Avrom Sutzkever, the historian of the Holocaust Lucy Dawidowicz, (nee Libe Schildkret), the educator Yosl Mlotek, the Bundist leader Motl Zelmanowicz, and scholar Moishe Kligsberg.

In Series II there are administrative materials relating to the Aspirantur program, such as records of student meetings, notes from lectures and discussions, evaluations of research projects, applications from prospective students, and correspondence.


  • 1934-1940

Language of Materials

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

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

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (Yidisher visnshaftlekher institut), established in Vilna in 1925, was divided into four academic sections: Philology, History, Economics and Statistics, Psychology and Education. In 1935 the YIVO Institute added a graduate training division known as the Aspirantur (graduate-level training program). Named in honor of Zemach Shabad (1864-1935), YIVO's chairman, the Aspirantur aimed to educate scholars who wished to pursue research and teaching careers in Jewish scholarship. It was part of a larger project, espoused by intellectuals such as Zalman Reisen, Chaim Zhitlowsky, and Shmuel Niger, of creating a university that would not only serve to educate Jews excluded from national universities by the quota system, but also train a generation of scholars to study Jewish culture for its own sake. In a period when producing knowledge about Jewish culture was highly politicized, the founders of the Aspirantur sought to train scholars in the most sophisticated methods of the social sciences and humanities who would serve the interests of the Eastern European Jewish population itself, unbiased by Zionist or assimilationist commitments. This project, Zalman Reisen stated, was an essential part of arguing for Jewish self-determination.1 The YIVO Aspirantur program was thus a prototype for a national university that merged a concern for quality scholarship with the goal of promoting Diaspora nationalism. The teachers in the Aspirantur program included Simon Dubnow, Max Weinreich, Zelig Kalmanovitch, Zalman Reisen, Jacob Lestschinsky, Raphael Mahler, Philip Friedman, and Noah Prylucki.

Although the Aspirantur was not an accredited academic program and did not demand a formal university diploma it was "designed to provide graduate-level instruction for students with the equivalent of a university education"2 and required its students to conduct independent scholarly work in the fields of the Jewish humanities and social sciences and in Yiddish language and literature. Students were also required to write papers summarizing their findings. Several of these papers were publicly presented and some of them were later published by YIVO.

Aspirantn, as the Aspirantur participants were called, would come to Vilna for a financially subsidized academic year. They would each choose a research topic and participate in seminars and classes led by YIVO affiliates. YIVO initially planned to accept ten students for the first year, but due to the program's overwhelming response, fifteen applicants were admitted. Enrollment continued to rise in subsequent years.

In 1937 a new division called the Pro-aspirantur, named in memory of Borukh Kahan-Virgili was added to the Aspirantur program, as a two-year preparatory program for prospective aspirantn who had not received a university-level education and were not yet sufficiently prepared to enter the Aspirantur program. The Pro-Aspirantur evolved into a teacher-training program, filling the educational void of the Vilna Teachers Seminary, which closed in 1931.

The Aspirantur was originally intended to be a one-year program, but the decision was made subsequently to allow "outstanding" students to return for a second year. By its fourth year, several of the participants were returning students who were attending the program for the second, third, and fourth time. Due both to the Aspirantur program's success and the limited professional prospects for young Jews in Poland in the late 1930s, it was not uncommon for students to remain longer than originally envisioned.

The Aspirantur and Pro-Aspirantur and several program faculty members and participants are described in greater detail by Lucy Dawidowicz, an aspirant (1938-1939) - then known by her maiden name Libe Schildkret - in her memoir, From That Place and Time: A Memoir, 1938-1947.


  1. 1Kuznitz, C.E. The Origins of Yiddish Scholarship and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (doctoral dissertation, Stanford University), p. 18.
  2. 2Ibid., p. 248.


Kuznitz, C.E. The Origins of Yiddish Scholarship and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (doctoral dissertation, Stanford University)

Dawidowicz, Lucy. From That Place and Time: A Memoir, 1938-1947. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008.


6.08 Linear Feet (15 boxes)


The Aspirantur, a graduate training program for scholars of Jewish culture, was founded by the YIVO Institute For Jewish Research in 1935. Led by key figures such as Simon Dubnow, Max Weinreich, and Zalmen Reyzen, the Aspirantur educated students who continued to play an important role in the growth of Jewish studies, including Lucy Dawidowicz, Avraham Sutzkever, and Yosl Mlotek. This collection contains research projects produced by the students, evaluations by their professors, and administrative materials produced in the course of running the program, including planning documents, applications, and correspondence.


The series are arranged by type of material, namely research papers or administrative materials.

The Record Group 1.3 is a segment of a larger block of the Vilna YIVO records within which all folders are numbered consecutively from # 1 to the end. The RG 1.3 begins at folder 3961 and ends at folder 4064.

  1. Series I: Student Research, 1934-1940
  2. Subseries 1: Research Papers and Notes, 1934-1940
  3. Subseries 2: Evaluations, 1935-1940
  4. Series II: Administrative Materials, 1934-1940

Acquisition Information

This subgroup, RG 1.3, is part of YIVO's institutional records generated in Vilna during the prewar period. 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, these documents 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 contain administrative materials and materials on other sections of YIVO.

More material relating to the Aspirantur can be found in the YIVO Archives in RG 1.1, Series IV Subseries 5.

Guide to the Records of the YIVO - Vilna Aspirantur 1934-1940 RG 1.3
Originally processed by Ezekiel Lipschutz in 1954. Translated and edited by 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 2015.
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. 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

  • May 18, 2018: dao links added by Leanora Lange.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

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