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Mattityahu Strashun (1817-1885): Scholar, Leader, and Book Collector


About the Exhibition


Mattityahu Strashun (1817-1885): Scholar, Leader, and Book Collector opened on December 13, 2001. The exhibition was curated by Aviva Astrinsky with assistance from Marek Web and Krysia Fisher, who also served designer of the exhibition.

Samuel Strashun (1793-1872) and his son, Matityahu (Mathias) Strashun (1817-1885) were both distinguished Talmudic scholars and great philanthropists in 19th century Vilna (now Vilnius, Lithuania). The Strashun family was a staunch supporter of secular education as well as yeshiva studies. Along with the Harkavy and Romm families, to whom they were connected by marriage, they formed the backbone of the Jewish community of pre-Holocaust Vilna.

Mathias Strashun spent a great part of his fortune on collecting rare Hebrew books. In his will he bequeathed his magnificent library to the Vilna community, thus creating one of the first Jewish public libraries in Eastern Europe. When the Russians occupied Vilna in 1940, the Strashun Library was merged with the Vilna YIVO Library. A year later, shortly following the Nazi conquest of the city, it was decreed that all Jewish books be crated and shipped to Frankfurt am Main. Fortunately, the liberating forces of the American Army discovered the stolen books in 1945, and returned them to YIVO in New York in 1947.

In YIVO's earlier quarters at 1048 Fifth Avenue, there was very little space to display these precious books. On 16th Street, it has been possible to set aside an area for a Rare Book Room.

The preservation of the Strashun Rare Book Collection and the digitization of its card catalog were made possible through the generosity of Mrs. Tanya Corbin and Mr. Irwin Jacobs, and the Waber Fund.