Thousands of newly discovered Jewish documents, dating from the mid-18th century through WWII, give us a better understanding of Eastern European Jewish life during this time, reports The Jerusalem Post. While announcing the discovery, researchers at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research say these documents were thought to have been destroyed during the Holocaust.
In 1941, as part of program to loot Jewish museums and institutions, the Nazis raided YIVO, which is now based in New York but then was headquartered in Vilna. A group of Jewish slave laborers called the “Paper Brigade” smuggled some books, papers and artwork into the Vilna ghetto — risking their lives in the process. After World War II, a non-Jewish Lithuanian librarian, Antanas Ulpis, hid the collection in the basement of a church amid a campaign by the Soviet government to rid the country of religion.
In 1991, the Lithuanian government said it found 150,000 documents that Ulpis had kept in the church, but the new discovery appears to surpass that collection both in terms of size and the condition of the documents, said Jonathan Brent, YIVO’s executive director.
Together the two discoveries make up “the largest collection of material about Jewish life in Eastern Europe that exists in the world,” Brent told JTA earlier this month at YIVO’s downtown headquarters here. Brent said the documents shed new light on the lives of Eastern European Jews, whose history is often told as a series of persecutions.