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Papers of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade

Identifier: RG 1952

Scope and Contents

The collection covers the period between 1910s-2010. The collection consists of literary manuscripts and typescripts of prose, poetry, lectures, speeches, and essays, newspaper clippings, serialized newspaper installments, reprints, galleys, personal notebooks, correspondence, photographs, and personal artifacts relating to Chaim and Inna Grade.

Although Series I: Chaim Grade’s Early Period (1930s-1947) makes up a rather small part of the collection, it contains some of the most valuable and personal material in the whole collection. This series contains Grade’s personal notebooks from his time in the Soviet Union that include handwritten notes on his own experiences as a refugee, notes and information he acquired at the time about the concentration camps and the Holocaust in Poland, as well lists of names, addresses, and phone numbers of various individuals. These notes offer us a glimpse into Grade’s daily life, thoughts, and literary inspirations during his time as a refugee. The manuscripts, typescripts, and various translations of Grade’s poems written and published in the Soviet Union demonstrate Grade’s growing presence and significance as a literary figure reaching far beyond Vilna. Of particular note are two literary discoveries, previously unknown and unpublished original dramatic works: Di toyte kenen nisht oyfshteyn, and Khurbn.

Series II: Literary Works of Chaim Grade in His American Period (1947-2006) makes up a significant part of the literary portion of the collection. The bulk of the prose material consists of typed Yiddish drafts and English translation drafts, both with significant handwritten edits, notes, and revisions by Chaim Grade, Inna Grade, and various editors. The poetry section includes manuscripts, typescripts, newspaper clippings, reprints, and prepared anthologies of Chaim Grade’s poetry. It also showcases translations of Grade’s poetry into Hebrew and English, as well as musical adaptations of Grade’s poetic work. In the section titled Grade's Notebooks Containing Various Titles of Prose, we see Grade’s creative mind at work, engaging with his own notes and early drafts of prose work.

Numerous manuscripts, typescripts, and published journal clippings of Grade’s essays, lectures, and speeches demonstrate not only his comprehensive knowledge of Yiddish culture, language, and history, but also the demand and appreciation of such information in the United States and around the world. Also included in Series II are galleys of Grade’s prose works, as well as complete and incomplete serialized newspaper clippings of prose work by Chaim Grade, often significantly varying from later drafts and final publications.

Series III: Correspondence and Personal Documents of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade consists of the correspondence of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade with family, friends, editors, translators, and with various literary, political, academic, and religious organizations and institutions. The series is remarkable in both breadth and scope, and includes scores of letters to and from Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade, that reflect their rich involvement in the Yiddish literary world while also displaying the friendships and partnerships that represented their personal and professional lives.

Series IV consists of Inna Hecker Grade’s continued correspondence after Chaim Grade’s death in 1982.

Series V: Inna Grade’s Personal Papers includes a wide variety of Inna Hecker Grade's original literary and academic work, journals/diaries, as well as her personally organized files (correspondence, contracts, official documents, op-eds, articles) that document her various disputes and discussions with others on topics related to Chaim Grade’s literary estate, as well as other literary, historical, and political subjects. Newspaper and journal clippings about Chaim Grade, Inna Hecker Grade, and Yiddish literature, as well as Chaim and Inna's awards and diplomas make up Series VI: Scrapbooks, Clippings, Diplomas, Certificates.

Series VII: Photographs encompasses the full lives of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade. The archive holds numerous photographs of Inna’s childhood in Russia, as well as photos of her close and extended family throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Most of the photos of Chaim Grade in the collection start after the war - this includes pictures of him returning to the Vilna ruins at the end of 1945, and also his brief stays in Poland and in Paris with other Yiddish writers. Photographic documentation increased exponentially during the American Period, and this portion highlights their lives in New York, as well as Chaim Grade's travels as a lecturer and speaker throughout the United States and abroad, including trips to Israel, South Africa, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina.

Series VIII: Audio Recordings includes cassette tapes, as well as eight tape reels. The audio material includes recordings of readings of Chaim Grade’s prose work, Chaim Grade’s lectures and speeches, Inna Hecker Grade’s poetry readings, and personal incoming messages recorded on Inna Hecker Grade’s answering machine.

Series IX: Financial Papers includes all the accumulated documents and paperwork related to the finances of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade, including bank statements, tax forms, bank checks, and financial receipts. The personal objects and artifacts that make up Series X include Chaim Grade’s typewriters and Judaica, and Inna Hecker Grade's jewelry. Series XI is consists of the paintings, portraits, sketches, and sculptures that were purchased by the Grades, or that were gifted to them by friends and family. Series IX-XI are not digitized and access to them is restricted.


  • 1910s-2010
  • Majority of material found in 1940s-2000s


Language of Materials

The collection is predominantly in Yiddish and English, with some Hebrew, Russian, and French, as well as individual items in Lithuanian, Polish, German, and Turkmen.

Conditions Governing Access

For more information, contact:

Chief Archivist

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street

New York, NY 10011


Conditions Governing Access

Restricted access for Series IX-XI.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained from the YIVO Archives. For more information, contact:

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical / Historical

Upon the death of Inna Hecker Grade in 2010, the papers of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade were passed under the Public Administrator of Bronx County, who managed their estate. The Public Administrator of Bronx County announced a public auction of the estate open to all interested institutions and organizations. YIVO and the National Library of Israel successfully bid for the purchase of the papers, and on February 14, 2013, purchased the collection from the Public Administrator of Bronx County. The collection is owned jointly by YIVO and the National Library of Israel.


The Yiddish poet and novelist Chaim Grade was born in Vilna (Vilnius) in 1910, the son of Shlomo Mordechai Grade and Vella Blumenthal. Grade’s father was a maskil and a Hebrew teacher, who often clashed with rabbinic authorities. He died when Chaim was still a young boy, at which point he and his mother moved into a blacksmith’s cellar where they lived in destitute poverty. Not long afterwards, Grade was placed in a children’s home in Vilna. His mother toiled as a fruit peddler in the marketplace in order to provide for Chaim’s eventual traditional schooling. Although Grade’s father appears in some of his creative work, it is his mother who is the selfless, virtuous heroine that permeates Grade’s poetry and prose.

From the age of thirteen, Grade studied at different mussar yeshivas affiliated with the Novardok branch, including in Vilna, Valkenik, Bielsk, and Bialystok. The Novardok branch stressed a moral and ethical self-perfection, which was only possible through extreme self-abnegation, severe asceticism, and intensive self-analysis. Grade studied with and was deeply influenced by Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, the Hazon Ish, with whom he studied for seven years. Although Grade was a dedicated and excellent student, his interest in secular literature and his desire to explore his own poetic voice proved too strong, and at the age of twenty two he left the yeshiva life and turned to writing secular poetry.

Grade’s burgeoning poetic career began with the publication of his first poem in 1932, “Mayne mame” (My Mother), in the newspaper Vilner Tog, whose editor was Zalmen Reyzen. Grade’s poetry was well received in the literary world, and he soon joined the ranks of the literary and artistic group Yung-Vilne (Young Vilna). The esteemed members of Yung-Vilne included the poets Shimshon Kahan, Perets Miranski, Avrom Sutzkever, Elkhonen Vogler, and Leyzer Volf; prose writers Shmerke Kaczerginski and Moyshe Levin; and artists Bentsye Mikhtom, Rokhl Sutzkever, and Sheyne Efron. Yung-Vilne strove to develop a literary and artistic experimental movement that focused on uniting elements of Jewish secular culture, progressive politics, and contemporary world literature. One of Grade’s greatest poetic influences was that of the Hebrew-Yiddish poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik - so much so that the members of Yung Vilna nicknamed Grade “Chaim Nachman Bialik.” By the mid-1930s Grade’s poems were being published in various periodicals in Europe and America, including in Literatishe Bleter, Tsukunft, In Zikh, and Zamlbikher.

Grade’s first poetry publication Yo (Yes; 1936) was a lyrical affirmation of his break from his religious education. The poetic voice in this collection championed leftist/socialist politics, honored his pious mother, and celebrated his own poetic calling. However, it was his epic narrative poem Musernikes (Musarists; 1939) that solidified Grade’s position as a leading young Yiddish writer. The semi-autobiographical narrative told through the figure of “Сhaim Vilner” delves into the world of the Novardok yeshiva, and explores the struggles and tensions between the moral and ethical perfectionism demanded from students, and the personal lusts, spiritual doubts, and secular temptations that students experience. The poem showcases Grade’s deep and internalized knowledge of the Novardok yeshiva through the use of the rich language and vocabulary of Yiddish and Hebrew-Aramaic, and through the complex and detailed portrayal of the spiritual and physical realities of the yeshiva. Just as the figure of Grade’s beloved mother permeates his whole literary oeuvre, his own relationship with the mussar movement continues to manifest itself in his later prose works, as Grade himself once stated in an interview, “...once you’ve been exposed to Musar it invades the marrow of your bones and stays there forever.”


Grade married his first wife, Frumme-Liebe Klepfish, the daughter of a clergyman of a Zionist family in Palestine in the late 1930s. This marriage upset the Jewish communists in Vilna, as they were hoping to claim Grade as a representative poet for their causes. The backlash from the communists towards the couple was so intense that Frumme-Liebe was even put on a “hit list.” When the Soviets occupied Vilna in September 1939, and later returned in June 1940, Grade and Frumme-Liebe were under constant fear that they would be arrested because of her religious-Zionist ties. The political situation worsened as the Nazis entered Vilna in June 1941. The general belief amongst the people was that the Germans were only interested in able-bodied men for the purpose of hard labor, and that they would not harm women, children, or the elderly. Because of this, Frumme-Liebe and his mother Vella encouraged him to escape and flee into the Soviet interior while they stayed behind. This decision would prove to be one of the most haunting and devastating moments of Grade’s life, as both women perished in the Vilna ghetto.

Fleeing Vilna in June 1941, Grade made his way first on foot, and then by way of troop trains that were constantly being bombarded by German planes. These intense wartime experiences, coupled with Grade’s longing for the family he had left behind in Vilna, led him to begin writing as soon as he settled in a kolkhoz in the Saratov region. He continued to write short lyric poems and longer narrative poems throughout his wanderings from 1941-1943, during which he lived as a refugee in the Central Asian Soviet Republic cities of Tashkent, Ashkhabad, and Stalinabad. The war years in Russia were some of the most creative in Grade’s life, and he continued to write profusely in Moscow. Only when he returned to the Vilna ruins at the end of 1945, did he completely cease writing, as if he were paralyzed.

After the war, Grade published several collections of poetry: Doyres (Generations; 1945), Pleytim (Refugees; 1947), Der mames tsavoe (My Mother’s Will; 1949), and Shayn fun farloshene shtern (Light of Extinguished Stars; 1950). The poems in these collections depict Grade’s years as a refugee and the emotional and spiritual anguish he experienced during and after the war. Grade’s poems mourn the victims of the Holocaust, the obliteration of an entire Jewish world in Vilna, and also pay tribute to the survivors. A series of poems titled Mit dayn guf oyf mayne hent (With Your Body in My Hands), are dedicated to his murdered wife, and encapsulate the intense guilt, heartbreak, and agony he wrestled with as a survivor.

Grade met his second wife Inna Hecker Grade during his stay in Moscow. Inna was born in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine in 1925, the daughter of Malke Zalmanovna Heifetz and Yakov Petrovich Hecker. Inna’s mother tongue was Russian, and both her parents were physicians employed by the Dnipropetrovsk Medical Institute. At a young age, Inna was provided a German tutor, and eventually was sent to a rigorous and prestigious school where all subjects were taught in German. When that school closed down in 1936, she entered a Russian school, where she studied until 1941. A surgeon and opthamologist, Inna’s father enlisted in the war and was sent to the front. He was kept prisoner by the Germans but was eventually murdered for being a Jew. In the fall of 1941, Inna and her mother fled to Chelyabinsk after the German occupation of their home city Dnipropetrovsk. The Kiev Medical Institute was moved to Chelyabinsk because of the war, and here Inna’s mother was employed as a surgical assistant.

Inna’s own interests, however, veered away from medical subjects, and were directed towards the humanities. She attended the Chelyabinsk Pedagogical Institute, where she studied literature, history, and languages. In 1944, she transferred to the Moscow Pedagogical Institute, where upon graduation she expected to become an English teacher in a Russian school. This plan changed when in December 1945 she married Chaim Grade, and in May 1946 she left with him to Łódź, Poland. In November 1946 they moved to Paris, where she began to study the French language, and French art and history.

Grade’s time in Paris from 1946-1948 was spent attempting to revive the remaining Yiddish culture and reconnecting with survivors. In June of 1947, Grade was invited to go to Zurich as a delegate for the Pen Club . As the President of the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Paris, Grade was invited to an event hosted by the Alveltlekher Yidisher Kultur Kongres (Congress for Jewish Culture) in New York. Because of a change in their legal status, Grade and his wife were unable to return to Poland or Russia, and were encouraged to apply for the status of Displaced Persons in the United States.


Upon settling in New York City, Grade’s literary focus shifted almost entirely from writing poetry to writing prose. Grade viewed the lyric poem that he had utilized earlier as the right form for his role as an elegist of the Holocaust, but this form would no longer be suitable for the depiction of the destruction of the Jewish world of Eastern Europe. He also wanted to reach a wider variety of Yiddish readers in America, and the way to achieve that was to publish serialized fiction in Yiddish papers, including The Morning Journal, The Day-Morning Journal, and The Forward. Even in prose form, Grade was unable to tear himself away from the Vilna synagogue courtyard, and he wrote to immortalize the annihilated world, especially that of Jewish Vilna. He wanted to describe Jewish life in Eastern Europe in all its depth and complexity, ranging from the most mundane, banal, and seedy aspects, to the most beautiful, spiritual, and holy.

Inna Hecker Grade played a significant role in Chaim Grade’s literary development and success. A staunchly dedicated champion and overseer of him and his work, Inna not only worked alongside editors of Grade’s Yiddish manuscripts, she also helped translate Grade’s work into English. She corresponded with, oftentimes on behalf of Chaim Grade, translators, publishers, public figures, and cultural and literary organizations. Inna’s strong character and stringent approach towards translators and Yiddish literary establishments marked her as a difficult woman, but her educational prowess, knowledge, and determination were unmatched.

Part philosophical essay and part short story, “Mayn krig mit Hersh Rasseyner” (My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner) published in 1951, dramatizes an accidental meeting in Paris of two survivors after the war, the humanist and secular Chaim Vilner, and his former Mussar teacher Hersh Rasseyner. Throughout these encounters, the two characters grapple with the Holocaust and its effects on their own spiritual and moral beliefs. Grade’s tremendous two-volume novel Tsemakh Atlas: di yeshive (The Yeshiva), originally published in serialized installments in Yiddish newspapers, is a recreation of the Musar world of Grade’s youth, focusing on the intricacies and complexities of the intellectual and internal spiritual, moral, and ethical struggles that come in conflict with the appeal of the secular world and an individual’s base, physical desires.

Der mames shabosim (My Mother’s Sabbath Days; 1955), translated by Inna Hecker Grade and Channa Kleinerman Goldstein, is a collection of memoiristic short stories that provides readers a glimpse into Grade’s childhood through the eyes of his mother, Vella. Later stories within the collection detail Grade’s time as a refugee in Russia, as well as his experiences upon his return to the ruins of Vilna. Grade’s three novellas of Der shulhoyf (The Synagogue Courtyard; 1958), the stories of Di kloyz un di gas (The Study House and the Street; 1974), and Der shtumer minyen (The Silent Minyan; 1976) pay particular attention to traditional Jewish life in Lithuania, fixating on the rich and colorful characters of ordinary people. Di agune (The Agunah; 1961) depicts the social, religious, and ethical realities of Vilna Jewry, and how the highly introspective philosophical and religious debates of spiritual leaders hold serious consequences for the lives of the followers.

During the latter part of his life, Grade spent a significant amount of time traveling throughout America and abroad, visiting countries such as Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa, Mexico, and Israel. He promoted Yiddish culture and language around the world by giving lectures, meeting with Jewish youth, and speaking about his personal experiences. Grade never stopped writing poetry, and he published two collections of poems titled Der mentsh fun fayer (The Man of Fire; 1962) and Oyf mayn veg tsu dir (On My Way to You; 1969), that continue to grapple with the memories of the past, but also look toward the new physical and emotional landscapes of his present.

Grade’s plan to work on a new novel, titled The Jewish City, chronicling Jewish life in Vilna on the brink of World War II, was thwarted by his untimely death in June, 1982. After Grade’s passing, Inna Hecker Grade continued to unrelentingly manage and oversee access to Grade’s work, until the time of her death in 2010.


50 Linear Feet


This collection contains manuscripts of novels, short stories, poems, essays, lectures, speeches, translations, and other writings, correspondence, photographs, and personal documents and materials of Yiddish writer Chaim Grade and his wife Inna Hecker Grade. The collection helps to illustrate Grade’s literary development and impact on Yiddish literature over time, from his earliest poetic works written in Vilna and the Soviet Union, to his prolific and accomplished prose work composed mainly in the United States. The collection illuminates Inna Grade's intellectual and academic prowess, as well as the integral role that she played in the editorial and logistical aspects of Grade's literary output.


The collection is divided into 11 series:

  1. Series I: Chaim Grade's Early Period, 1930s-1947
  2. Series II: Literary Work of Chaim Grade in His American Period, 1947-2006
  3. Series III: Correspondence and Personal Documents of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade, 1930s-1982
  4. Series IV: Inna Hecker Grade's Personal Correspondence, 1982-2010
  5. Series V: Inna Hecker Grade's Personal Papers, 1982-2010
  6. Series VI: Scrapbooks, Clippings, Diplomas, Certificates, 1950s-2000s
  7. Series VII: Photographs of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade, 1910s-1980s
  8. Series VIII: Audio Recordings, 1970-2009
  9. Series IX: Financial Papers of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade, 1940s-2000s
  10. Series X: Personal Objects and Artifacts
  11. Series XI: Artwork Collected by Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade

Custodial History

After the death of Inna Hecker Grade in 2010, the papers of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade were put up for sale. YIVO and the National Library of Israel successfully bid for the purchase of the papers, and in 2013, purchased the collection from the Bronx Administrative Office. The papers are owned jointly by YIVO and the National Library of Israel, and the physical materials are in the custody of YIVO.

Related Materials

The Chaim Grade (RG 566) collection contains several thousand letters addressed to Chaim Grade from his readers, and from Yiddish writers and cultural organizations. Books acquired from the library of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade in 2013 are housed in the YIVO library.

Papers of Chaim Grade and Inna Hecker Grade 1910s-2010, Bulk 1940s-2000s RG 1952
Original inventory drawn up by Marek Web and Chava Lapin. Preliminary finding aid completed by Dr. Miriam Trinh. Additional processing and project planning by Fruma Mohrer and Dr. Lyudmila Sholokhova. Collection fully processed, arranged, and finding aid completed by Beata Kasiarz. Additional processing assistance provided by Agata Sobczak.
© 2021
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Processed, conserved, and digitized in cooperation with the National Library of Israel. Funding provided by the National Library of Israel, Anonymous, Atran Foundation, Bernstein Family Foundation, Leo Melamed, and Rochelle Weinstein.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States