Page 110 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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Momentous events in Jewish life after the outbreak of World
War II determined the future of the Central Jewish Library and
Archives. With annihilation facing the European Jewish com-
munity and its great cultural institutions, it became apparent
that Jewish institutions on American soil must take over. In
October, 1939, the Central Jewish Library and Archives was
incorporated into the American branch of YIVO. It became
the YIVO library with the transfer of the YIVO headquarters
from Vilna to New York in 1940, upon the arrival in New York
of Max Weinreich, one of the directors of the Institute. The new
YIVO library grew rapidly, receiving important collections from
various sources. Some were brought by refugee scholars who
escaped German persecution. Thus originated the library of
YIVO’s Section on History, collected and maintained by Elias
Tcherikower, secretary of the Section, to which was later added
the personal library of this historian. Jacob Lestchinsky, head of
the Section on Economics and Statistics, delivered to the YIVO
part of his collection. During the almost three decades since
1940, the library received many important collections of writers,
publishers and civic leaders who bequeathed their books to the
YIVO. The prewar Vilna collection was supplemented by several
thousand volumes of books and periodicals through the Jewish
Cultural Reconstruction, and by purchases from a special fund
made available to the YIVO for the restoration and replacement
of books destroyed by the Germans during the war. A systematic
endeavor to collect material on the European Jewish catastrophe
of the years 1933-45 resulted in a collection of considerable size
and research value. Noteworthy is also the large collection of
Nazi materials acquired mainly through the efforts of Z. Szaj-
kowski.
Concluding this brief history of the YIVO library, which
counts now over 300,000 volumes, it could be said to represent a
merger of two great collections: one initiated and developed in
the heart of prewar Europe, the other created on American soil.
The result is a collection not only rich and varied but also
unique in character, embodying a continuity of Jewish cultural
endeavors on both sides of the Atlantic.
We will now survey briefly the YIVO library resources in several
areas which are most representative of its collections.
Early Hebrew and Yiddish Books
Perhaps the least known part of the library is the sizable
collection of books issued by the early Hebrew printing presses
of Italy, Turkey, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland,
Bohemia and Poland. To the earliest books in the library belong