|The building of YIVO on Vivulskio street. Its construction finished in 1933. The house was destroyed during the war|
YIVO (The Jewish Scientific Institute), founded in 1925, soon became the largest Jewish scientific organization in the world. Today, of course, the most famous educational institutions are in Israel, but at that time an independent Jewish State did not exist. By the way, in the same year of 1925 Jerusalem University was established in Palestine and many people saw here a symbolic coincidence - a scientific Hebrew center was established in Jerusalem, and a Yiddish scientific center - in Jerusalem of Lithuania.
YIVO, like other Jewish organizations was maintained not by the state, but by sponsors. And although the Institute suffered constant lack of incomes, it managed to develop huge research work in virtually all fields of Yiddish culture - history, linguistics, literature, folklore, economics, statistics, psychology, pedagogy; it carried out social research. When the institute became stronger, doctorate studies were established which prepared the researches of Yiddish culture. In 1935 Albert Einstein wrote from Prinston (USA) to the leaders of YIVO: "I want to express to the Institute my recognition for its work in the service to the education and research of Jewish nation. I see the search for education as the principle goal of Jews and Institute's work, especially during these times of persecutions (reference to the Nazi policy), is of utmost value".
All sections of the Institute regularly published scientific works, selections and author works (for example, books by the famous historian Shimon Dubnov, among them - the ten-volume history of Jews). The Institute accumulated a rich collection of books, magazines, newspapers (groups of YIVO supporters were active all over the world). The archive collected a large selection of newspapers, portraits, there was a museum the history of theater.
All Institute's departments were very efficient, however, the most significant work was carried out by the philological section. Real giants of Yiddish linguistics worked here - Max Vainraich (he was the scientific director of YIVO), Zalman Reizen, Zelig Kalmanovitch, Noach Prilutski, Judel Mark and others. It's impossible to list all their accomplishments, among which the most important one probably was the standardizing of Yiddish language.
The importance of YIVO can be deduced from the fact that the members of its Honorary Board were A. Einstein, Zygmund Froid, Edward Bernstein, one of the leaders and ideologists of the II International. The Nazi destroyed YIVO, however, its work is continued by Institute's former branch in New York, which grew into a huge scientific institution.
Another academic institution, alas, completely forgotten was the Department of Yiddish Language and Literature. At the time when the Nazi annihilated Jews and their culture, the Department of Yiddish, which aimed at training teachers for Jewish schools in Lithuania was established in Vilnius University. Negotiations regarding the establishment of the Department were launched in 1939. Authorities of the University and the Faculty of Humanities - Professor M. Birzhishka, Professor V. Mykolaitis-Putinas and others - were in favor of this project and supported it. Due bureaucratic obstacles at the Ministry of Education the Department was finally established only at the end of 1940. Its existence was very short, only until June 1941, it did not manage to accomplish wonders. Perhaps this is the reason why it sunk into oblivion. Despite that, the head of the Department dr. Noach Prilutski managed to publish works on the history of Jewish theater, he prepared and give several courses in Yiddish language and literature. The Department closely co-operated with YIVO. Dr. Prilutski together with Department's students perished during the Nazi occupation.
Jewish culture constituted the essential part of the general culture of Vilnius. Although neither Russian nor Polish authorities showed benevolence toward Jews, the Jewish names of many streets testified their presence in the city. There were Zhydu, Gaono, Strashuno, Antokolskio, Ramailes, Fino and other streets. Many of the old town streets were named after the professions of Jewish craftsmen and trade people - Stiklių (glass makers), Mėsinių (butchers), Raugyklos and others. At the and of 1939, when Vilnius was returned to Lithuania, city's burgamaster K. Stashys initiated the naming of the four streets after the names of prominent Jews: Mendele (Moicher Sforim), Perets, Dik and Shabad.
The Nazi destroyed the whole Jewish Vilnius. On September 23, 1943 they liquidated Vilnius ghetto. Now the whole country commemorates this day as the day of Jewish genocide. The soviets attempted to erase the last memories of Jewish presence in Vilnius, even the names of the streets were changed.
The martyrologue of the Jews of Vilnius is most horrible in the whole of Lithuania. It once again reminds us about the painful loses that our country suffered during the Holocaust.
S. Atamukas. The Way of Lithuanian Jews. V, 1998, p. 169-183. (in Lithuanian)
Israel Cohen. Vilna. Philadelphia-Jerusalem, 1992.
Jerusalem of Lithuania by Leyzer Ran. Volume 1-3. New York, 1974.
G. Agranovskij, I. Guzenberg. Jerusalem of Lithuania. A short city guide. 1992 (in Russian)
© Jews in Lithuania, Vilnius, 1999-2000