YIVO to Digitize Treasure Trove of Leftist History

YIVO to Digitize Treasure Trove of Leftist History

New York Jewish Week–YIVO has launched an eight-year project to digitize its Jewish Labor and Political Archives, widening access to some 3.5 million pages related to Jewish revolutionary, socialist and labor movements in Europe and America.

The project, the largest archival digitization project in the history of the Jewish research institute, will shine a light on the Jewish Labor Bund whose archives survived the Nazis and form the core of the collection.

Founded in Vilna in 1897 by Jews influenced by Marxism, the Bund played a central role in organizing Jewish trade unions and aligned with various socialist parties in pre-WWII Europe. It administered a massive network of secular Yiddish schools, stood up against anti-Semitism and supported an underground network against the Nazi genocide, activities kept up by members who managed to flee to New York in the early 1940s.

That history is reflected in the journey of the archive materials which were seized by the Nazis but were later rediscovered in France after the German army’s retreat. In 1951 the Bund Archives was brought to New York, and transferred to YIVO in 1992.

“In addition to providing fascinating material about Jewish political activity in pre-Revolution Russia and interwar Europe, these collections reveal the impact of an important aspect of the Jewish immigrant community on American politics and social life and deepen our understanding of the American Jewish experience,” YIVO CEO and executive director Jonathan Brent said.

Although the Bund was never able to regain its influence after the Holocaust, it has been fondly recalled in recent years by Jewish leftists captivated by its politics. In 2017 City University of New York historian Daniel Katz argued Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential candidacy drew on the “peculiar philosophy of Yiddish socialism or Yiddishism” which the Bund represented.

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