The YIVO Library is an unparalleled resource for every area of Yiddish and East European Jewish studies. In constant use by researchers from around the world, the Library holds more than 360,000 printed books in a dozen languages, including the world's foremost collection of Yiddish publishing, and an unequalled collection of Yiddish serials. Through the complementary holdings of its Library and Archives, YIVO is the great repository of East European Ashkenazic culture, of which American Jewry is the heir.
As the only Jewish research institution from pre-war Europe which survived the Holocaust and which still exists today, YIVO counts among its holdings a variety of specialized collections of diverse provenance. An important part of the YIVO Library stems from its pre-war collections which were confiscated by the Nazis in Vilna during the Holocaust, later found in Germany after the war, and eventually sent to the New York YIVO in 1947. The Library also holds treasures rescued by the fabled 'Paper Brigade,' young Jewish scholars who hid books and documents inside and outside the Vilna ghetto, thus saving them from Nazi pillage. (The Vilna Collection and other Holocaust-related collections are described elsewhere on this site.)
Best described as a "collection of collections," the YIVO Library has been built through the amalgamation of a number of private and institutional libraries. Shortly before the transfer of YIVO's headquarters to New York in 1940, the Central Jewish Library and Archives (CJLA), a repository of American Yiddish materials which had been founded in New York in 1938, was amalgamated with the American branch of YIVO. The CJLA included the Winchevsky Collection of Jewish labor history and Yiddish literature. By the end of the war, the growing YIVO library in New York acquired the library of the Chicago Yiddish publisher M. Ceshinsky and of the Yiddish theoretician Chaim Zhitlowsky. The Tcherikower Collection of Jewish history, hidden in France during the war, was acquired in 1946.
Since 1950 YIVO has acquired the private libraries of the literary historian Kalmen Marmor, the critic Shmuel Niger, theatre archivist Sholem Perlmutter, folklorist J. L. Cahan, essayist Shloyme Bickel, novelist Joseph Opatoshu, poet H. Leivick, Holocaust historian Philip Friedman, lexicographer Nachum Stutchkoff, the cultural historian Shlomo Noble and the Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich. Also acquired were the private libraries of YIVO librarian Mendl Elkin and YIVO Archivist, Ezekiel Lifschutz. Thanks to these varied collections, the YIVO Library is especially strong in Yiddish theatre, Yiddish linguistics and lexicography, and historical writings, aside from its extensive holdings in modern Yiddish literature, including many books and serials found in no other research library in the world.
Taken as a whole, YIVO's collections comprise the published record of Yiddish and East European Jewish civilization at its peak, from the mid-19th through the 20th century, both in its historic territories and in the various émigré centers in different corners of the world. At YIVO are preserved virtually every book, every pamphlet, every periodical, every letterhead related to this Ashkenazic civilization, especially at its highest point, during its transfer to America, before and after its annihilation under Nazis and Soviets. YIVO is the world's largest repository of the books and documents of immigrant American Yiddish culture – the culture which formed American Jewry. It is on account of the riches of its Library and Archives that YIVO remains the unique world center of Yiddish research, one of the major centers of research in East European Jewish history, and an essential resource for the study of immigrant American Jewry.
For further information on the history of the YIVO Library and its holdings, see:
Dina Abramowicz, "The YIVO Library," Jewish Book Annual vol. 25 (New York, 1967-1968), pp. 87-102.
Zachary Baker, "The Yiddish Collections of the YIVO Library: Their History, Scope and Significance," YIVO Annual vol. 22 (New York, 1995), pp. 253-273.
Zachary Baker and B. H. Weinberg, eds. The Yiddish Catalogue and Authority File of the YIVO Library (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990), 5 vols.