After the Holocaust was well under way, Nazi officials decided to establish a center for the study of “the Jewish question” that would carry on long after they succeeded in murdering every last Jew on the planet. It would, among other things, preserve the memory of the great service Germany had done the world by rendering it Judenrein. Joseph Berger writes:
[The Germans] appointed Jewish intellectuals and poets to select the choicest pearls for study. These workers, assigned to sift through a major Jewish library in Vilna (modern-day Vilnius) ended up hiding . . . books and papers from the Nazis, smuggling them out under their clothing, and squirreling them away in attics and underground bunkers. . . . Risking death by a firing squad, this “paper brigade” rescued thousands of books and documents.
In 1991, a large part of the collection was found in the basement of a Vilnius church, and [the contents] were hailed as important artifacts of Jewish history. . . . But months ago curators at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in Manhattan, the successor to the Vilnius library, were told that another trove, totaling 170,000 pages, had been found, somehow overlooked in the same church basement. . . . Among the finds [are] five dog-eared notebooks of poetry by Chaim Grade, considered along with Isaac Bashevis Singer as one of the leading Yiddish novelists of the mid-20th century, . . . [and] ten poems handwritten in the Vilna ghetto by Avraham Sutzkever, among the greatest Yiddish poets.
When the Germans were pushed out of Lithuania by the Soviets, survivors like Sutzkever spirited some hidden treasures to New York. (The Soviets frowned on anything evocative of [Jewish] ethnic or religious loyalties.) Meanwhile, a Gentile librarian, Antanas Ulpis, who was assembling the remnants of the national library in a former church, stashed stacks of Jewish materials in basement rooms to hide them from Stalin’s enforcers.
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