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Chicago YIVO Society

The acronym “YIVO” stands for yidisher visnshaftlekher institut. Founded in 1925 in Vilna, Poland (now Vilnius, Lithuania) and based in New York City since 1940, YIVO is today the world’s preeminent resource center for East European Jewish Studies; Yiddish language, literature, and folklore; and the American Jewish immigrant experience.

Waht is YIVO Yiddish text.jpg

The Chicago YIVO Society is a local affiliate of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. The mission of Chicago YIVO is to entertain and educate the local community through subsidized lectures, music programs, and film screenings that reflect the rich heritage and diversity of Jewish culture, and to ensure the future of Yiddish through language education.

The Society's mission is TWOFOLD:


To entertain and educate through subsidized lectures and performances that represent the rich heritage and diversity of Yiddish culture.


To build the future of the Yiddish language and culture in Chicago through innovative education and outreach efforts.


The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research was founded in Vilna, Poland, in 1925 and relocated to New York City in 1940. Our mission is to preserve, study and teach the cultural history of Jewish life throughout Eastern Europe, Germany and Russia. Our educational and public outreach programs concentrate on all aspects of this 1000-year history and its continuing influence in America. YIVO’s archival collections and library constitute the single greatest resource for such study in the world, including approximately 24 million letters, manuscripts, photographs, films, sound recordings, art works, and artifacts; as well as the largest collection of Yiddish-language materials in the world


Key European intellectuals, including Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, founded YIVO to record the history and pioneer the critical study of the language, literature and culture of the Jews of Eastern Europe. From its inception, YIVO was deeply concerned that the language and culture of East European Jewry were undergoing radical change in a rapidly modernizing world. YIVO's founders were tireless in collecting the documents and archival records of Jewish communities across Eastern Europe, years before anyone could have predicted the devastation that would befall them. In 1940, YIVO moved its permanent headquarters to New York City, becoming the only pre-Holocaust institution to transfer its mission to the United States from Europe.


The entrance hall and staircase of the YIVO building at 18 Wiwulskiego Street, Vilna, Poland in 1937 (YIVO Archives)

Samuel Norich, YIVO Director, in a cathedral where Lithuanian librarians hid materials looted by the Nazis and threatened with destruction by the Soviets, Vilnius, Lithuania. 1989. (YIVO Archives)

During World War II, several of YIVO's leading scholars managed to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe and continue their work in the United States. After the war, through the efforts of survivors, the United States Army, and others, a significant part of YIVO's collections were reclaimed and brought to the New York headquarters.

Today the YIVO Library holds over 385,000 books and periodicals in twelve languages. This includes the unique Vilna Collection of 40,000 volumes with 25,000 rabbinical works from as early as the 16th century. The Library holdings are particularly strong in documentation of Jewish history, culture, and religion in Eastern Europe; the Holocaust period; the experience of immigration to the United States; anti-Semitism; and the continuing influence of Ashkenazic Jewish culture today.

The YIVO Archives holds over 24 million documents, photographs, recordings, posters, films, videotapes, and items of ephemera. These include the world's largest collection of East European Jewish sound recordings; over 200,000 photographs; 400+ videos and films; and 50,000 posters documenting Jewish life from the 1900s to the present.

YIVO also has thousands of handwritten eyewitness accounts by Holocaust survivors and displaced persons; community records and documents from the Warsaw, Lodz and Vilna ghettos; over 750 memorial books from Jewish communities in Poland and neighboring countries; records of early immigrant relief and rescue organizations; autobiographies of hundreds of American Jewish immigrants; the Bund Archives and Library that traces the Jewish Labor Movement from its inception in Vilna in 1897; and the world's most extensive Yiddish music and theater collection.   

YIVO offers public lectures, continuing education classes, Yiddish language instruction, publications, research fellowships, and graduate seminars through the Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Studies. YIVO is in the forefront of preserving Yiddish language and literature, and in advancing scholarship in the fields of East European Jewish Studies and the American Jewish immigrant experience.

Each year, more than 4,000 scholars, students, museum curators, writers, filmmakers, artists, performers, historians, and family history researchers visit the YIVO Library and Archives, the world's largest collection of Yiddish books, documents, and other artifacts related to the history of East European Jewry.

YIVO is located at 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011.
Phone: 212-246-6080 | Fax: 212-292-1892 |

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