There are photographs scattered throughout the collections of the YIVO Archive, but a sizable proportion of them—some 150,000—are held by the Photographic Archive in specific photographic collections. The Photographic Archive is frequently consulted by publishers, filmmakers, exhibition curators, and other researchers and constitutes one of the most significant Jewish photographic collections in the world.
The Photographic Archive collects ordinary family photographs, as well as the work of acclaimed photographers. The images span many different topics and time periods relating to Jewish history and culture around the world, but are particularly notable in the following four subject areas: Jewish life in Eastern Europe; American Jewish immigration history; Yiddish theater; and the Holocaust.
For reference questions, to request an appointment to use the Photo and Film Archives, or to order reproductions, contact:
Appointments must be requested at least 1 week in advance. Due to a high volume of inquiries it may take up to a week to receive a response.
Jewish Life in Eastern Europe
YIVO is particularly well-known for its collection of photographs of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before World War II. Most of these photographs are to be found in the Territorial Photographic Collection (RG 120), over 49 linear feet of photographs of Jewish life around the world. The bulk of this collection is made up of images of Jewish life in Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.
Also on "People of A Thousand Towns" are photographs from several other prewar collections, including the records of the Lithuanian Jewish Communities, 1844-1940 (RG 2) and the Joseph A. Rosen Papers, 1921-1938 (RG 358). Rosen was an official of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). His papers contain hundreds of photographs of Jewish agricultural settlements, institutions, schools, factories, and medical centers which were supported by the JDC in the USSR.
Photographs and other items from the YIVO Archives are featured in Swarthmore College's online exhibition, Stalin's Forgotten Zion: Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland.
The American Jewish Immigrant Experience
The Photo Archive is a particularly rich resource of images related to the American Jewish immigrant experience. These pictures, scattered across several different collections, depict a wide range of subjects, including immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, studio portraits of American Jewish families and of prominent individuals, Yiddish theater performances, the activities of Jewish educational and social welfare organizations, trade union and political events, synagogues, and Jewish neighborhoods.
Significant collections of photographs related to American Jewish history include:
Images of the Holocaust
The Photo Archives holds about 10,000 images of the Holocaust and related subjects. These pictures, scattered across several different collections, have been cataloged and can be accessed via an online database.
Topics depicted in the Holocaust photographs include:
Not included in this database are most of YIVO's photographs of Jewish displaced persons camps established for Holocaust survivors by the Allies in Germany, Austria, and Italy at the conclusion of the war. Most of these can be found in Displaced Persons Camps and Centers: Photographs (RG 294.5).
Yiddish Theater Photographs
YIVO is one of the world's preeminent sources of photographs relating to the history of Yiddish theater. Many of these photographs have been cataloged and can be accessed via an online database.
Significant Yiddish theater photograph collections include:
Portraits of Prominent Individuals
The Photo Archives holds many portraits and candid photographs of individuals noted for their contributions to Jewish life, including writers, scholars, historians, scientists, philosophers, community leaders, rabbinical figures, political leaders, musicians, and cantors. Many of these pictures can be found in the following collections:
Researchers should may also consult the photographs of the Bund Archives (RG 1400), which include many pictures of political activists and Yiddish writers.
Mass-produced picture postcards can be found in many YIVO Archives collections. The Archives, however, maintains a special collection devoted to this type of artifact, Postcards and Greeting Cards, 1910s-1960s (RG 122). Included in this collection are rare postcards with art reproductions, photographic images, and poetic texts; as well as cards depicting folklore and religious themes, such as the Jewish New Year. The postcards have been cataloged and can be accessed via an online database.
The YIVO Slide Bank is a division of the Photographic Archive. The Slide Bank consists of slide reproductions of images from books and original photographs from the YIVO Library and Archives, accessible through a card catalog. Slides (up to 50 at a time) may be rented for four weeks for a fee of $25.00.
People of a Thousand Towns: The Online Catalog of Photographs of Jewish Life in Prewar Eastern Europe
17,000 photographs from the YIVO Archives.
Israel Government Press Office - National Photo Collection
50,000 photographs related to the history of the State of Israel.
Jewish Women's Archive
500 searchable images.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Thousands of Holocaust-related photographs from many different sources.
Witness to Jewish History
Pictures and family histories collected by Centropa.