Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Yiddish Letters

Yiddish letters can be found in several archives which were acquired by the IISH in the course of time. Some of these are from archives bought to or deposited in the IISH shortly after its founding in 1935. Among these archives are that of the Menshevik leader Raphael Abramovitch and the Russian Socialist-Revolutionary Party. After World War II, many important anarchist archives that include Yiddish letters came from the U.S.A. These included the archive of the German anarchist Rudolf Rocker and the Russian-American anarchists Senya Fléchine, Alexander Berkman,  and Boris Yelensky. Read more about the history of the IISH.


Thanks to Dr Rena Fuks-Mansfeld, more than 700 of these Yiddish letters are now accessible through a database. The files can be searched on author, sender, destination, and period of time. A short abstract of every letter is provided.
Download the database - (access-file, 6.5 Mb.), or the excel-sheet.

The letters have been selected from the archives where they repose among materials in several languages. In addition, the historical background of some of the archives and letters presented in the database is sketched. Eight collections are highlighted in a web presentation (see below).
All Yiddish printed materials (books, brochures, journals, flyers) in the collections of the IISH can be found under the denominator Yidishkayt in the catalogue.

Yiddish and the Left

Around 1900, the Yiddish press was very widespread, attesting to the language's prominence in this period. Yiddish periodicals ranged from daily newspapers to various scholarly journals. Modern Yiddish literature developed in spectacular ways. The works of prominent writers and poets appeared in socialist and anarchist publications. Yiddish journalism also spread to locations outside of Eastern Europe, where the majority of Yiddish speakers lived. The Jewish community in New York, for example, quickly founded their own newspapers within a short period of immigrating.

A debate on the value of the Yiddish language and literature as a means of national Jewish identification filled the literary supplements of quite a few Yiddish socialist and anarchist journals for a long time. The Yiddish language became a cultural and national issue. In certain cases, Yiddish and the culture it spawned became the bases of important Jewish political movements as well. The Jewish socialist party Bund, for example, considered the retention of Yiddish (as opposed to Russian or Hebrew) to be a central part of its platform. Yiddish became a major vehicle for expressing ideas of the Left.
The letters presented in this database and the Yidishkayt collection in the IISH library reflect on these and many other matters.

Renate Fuks-Mansfeld, “A hidden treasure: The Yiddish collection of the International Institute for Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam” in: Yiddishe Philologie: Festschrift für Erika Timm, Walter Röll and Simon Neuburg, ed., (Tübingen 1999), p. 1-15.

Maria Hunink, De papieren van de revolutie. Het Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis 1935-1947 (Amsterdam  1986)

17 September 2012