Page 109 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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A b r a m o w i c z
—YIVO
L i b r a r y
channeling Jewish cultural treasures of the occupied Eastern
territories to Germany. It seems an act of historical justice that
these YIVO treasures looted for the unholy purpose of “destroying
Jewish influence on the world” were found after the war in the
American Zone of Germany, and thanks to the cooperation of
General Lucius Clay and the U.S. State Department were returned
to the YIVO headquarters in New York.
According to the estimate of Mendel Elkin, the then librarian
of the YIVO, the collection comprised about 50,000 volumes of
books and periodicals and some 30,000 folders of archival material.
The following excerpt from “A Glimpse of the Vilna Collection”
will convey the impression it made on its arrival: “The 40,000
books [periodicals were counted separately, D.A.] in this collec-
tion cover the entire realm of Jewish literary activity, from mystic
and esoteric speculation on the nature of spheres to a statistical
analysis of Jewish occupations in a town in Poland, from a dis-
course on the significance of Law to a Jewish cookbook.” Two
special groups were later segregated from the entire Vilna col-
lection. They included rabbinics, about 12,000 titles ranging
from copies of the early Hebrew presses in Italy to the monu-
mental Talmud editions of the Romm printing press in Vilna,
and the periodicals collection of some 3,500 titles, of which 2,000
were in Yiddish, 500 in Hebrew and 1,000 in other languages.
Y IVO on American Soil
When the Vilna collection reached its new home in New
York, it joined a library which was already established on Amer-
ican soil as one of the outstanding Jewish collections in this
country. The origins of this library go back to 1935, when “a
group of Jewish cultural leaders conceived the idea of establish-
ing in New York a Jewish library dedicated mainly to the Yiddish
press and literature in America.” At a meeting representing several
Jewish cultural organizations the participants went on record that
“it was essential to gather in one place in America the fruit of
our creative efforts and the records of our accomplishments.”5
A resolution was adopted to establish such an institution under
the name Central Jewish Library and Archives. An intensive
search for books and periodicals was launched, directed and assist-
ed by prominent American Jewish scholars and bibliophiles.
Mendel Elkin, a man of letters, active in cultural affairs, was
appointed librarian. In the fall of 1918 the library, for which
one floor of the Hias building was rented, was opened to the
public.
5News of the Yivo,
no. 50 (Sept. 1953).