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Vilna Collection

Vilna Collection


The Vilna Collection is the core collection of the YIVO Library. It is the surviving remnant of YIVO's prewar library in Vilna and also contains many books from the world-famous Strashun Library. Both institutions were looted by the Nazis during World War II. After the war, YIVO was able to recover some of its library materials with the help of the U.S. Army, and also received books from the Strashun Library. (The other surviving Strashun Library books were transferred to the library of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.)

The Vilna Collection consists of about 50,000 books and periodicals in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, German, Polish, and other languages and is divided into subcollections:

  • Rabbinica (25,000 volumes)
    These books, most of which belonged to the Strashun Library before World War II, form the backbone of the Vilna Collection as a whole. Included in this virtually intact pre-1939 European collection are many titles that are extremely rare. The oldest books in the collection date to the early 16th century. The rabbinica were cataloged during the 1960s by the late Rabbi Hayim Liberman, librarian to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
  • Secular Hebrew works (8,000 volumes)
    These fall into two main categories: (a) 18th- and 19th-century books with a non-Orthodox orientation (e.g., commentaries by prominent maskilim), and (b) 20th-century belles-lettres, textbooks, political tracts, and general nonfiction, as a by-product of the modern revival of the Hebrew language. Most were previously part of the Strashun Library. This collection is currently being cataloged.
  • Secular Yiddish works (5,000 volumes)
    This is a representative collection of modern Yiddish publications, including many titles that are unique to the YIVO Library. Most were previously part of the Strashun Library. The collection was cataloged during the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and much of it was subsequently microfilmed, under grants from the S. H. and Helen R. Scheuer Family Foundation and the New York State Library.
  • Press (3,000 titles)
    Among these are hard-to-find small-town newspapers in Yiddish and one of the most comprehensive sets of Russian-language Jewish periodicals. A wide range of languages is represented among the press materials, most of which were collected by the Vilna YIVO. The Vilna Collection's European Yiddish press holdings were microfilmed during the 1960s, under the sponsorship of the Ab. Cahan Fund.
  • Works in other languages (1,000 volumes)
    This uncataloged collection is especially strong in rare Polish- and Russian-language Judaica. A portion of the Russian-language materials may be obtained on microfilm from Brill Publishers.