Is YIVO Close to Deal With Lithuania?

Despite Controversy, Research Group Hopes To Show Archives

By Paul Berger

Published November 09, 2011, issue of November 18, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Negotiations between Lithuania and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research may be close to re-establishing YIVO’s presence in Vilna 70 years after the Nazis looted and largely destroyed its holdings.

Jonathan Brent
karen leon
Jonathan Brent

But just where those negotiations stand appears unclear following an announcement in the group’s newsletter and a follow-up statement from YIVO’s executive director and CEO, Jonathan Brent. The article, in YIVO’s fall newsletter, announced that the organization had reached a “historic agreement” that “paves the way” for future cooperation on the establishment of a “YIVO Room” at the National Library of Lithuania.

“The YIVO Room will reconstitute YIVO’s library collections, approximately 8,000 books, which were expropriated by the Nazis during the war and subsequently subsumed into the Lithuanian National Library,” the article said. “The YIVO Room will also contain an exhibit of YIVO’s Vilna programs and archives.”

It continued, “This is the first time that YIVO will have an official presence in Vilna since the institution was destroyed by the Nazis in 1941.”

But YIVO’s Brent said in a later e-mail that the deal is only an “agreement to begin negotiations” and that there is still a long way to go before the room’s contents will be decided.

“No final disposition of materials has been achieved,” Brent said.

YIVO, once a center of Yiddish scholarship and the cultural pride of Eastern European Jewry, was founded in Vilna in 1925. During World War II, the Nazis destroyed almost two-thirds of its collection of books and archives. About two-thirds of the books and archives that remained were rescued and brought to New York. The rest stayed in Lithuania and survived through five decades of Communist rule.

Since 1989, successive YIVO heads have fought to have the organization’s documents, particularly its archives, returned to YIVO’s postwar headquarters in New York City. The Lithuanian government says the materials are part of Lithuania’s national heritage and should remain in the country.

Brent has pursued a more conciliatory tone with Lithuanian officials, provoking vehement opposition from a small group of Yiddishists, Holocaust survivors and their advocates.

Those critics, led by Dovid Katz, a Yiddish expert who divides his time between Lithuania and the United Kingdom, view any agreement that sees YIVO materials on display in Lithuania — even on long-term loan — as capitulation.

Their anger is fueled by what they perceive to be a Lithuanian government campaign to whitewash the country’s complicity in the Holocaust. About 95% of Lithuania’s Jews were murdered during the war, many at the hands of fellow Lithuanians.

“A decision to capitulate on looted Holocaust property would be an outrage in its own right,” Katz said, “supremely immoral for the memory of the victims and the dignity of the survivors of the Holocaust, and in the longer run, no help to the ongoing development of ethical and historical values in modern Lithuania.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.