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From the Yiddish Book Center's Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library

Aṭlas hisṭori shel ʿam Yiśraʾel (1949)
Thanks to the state-of-the-art equipment on loan to us from the Internet Archive, we have recently begun digitizing oversized books and books with foldouts. This historical atlas covers the entire historical period of the Tanakh, beginning with the possible routes of the Exodus during the second millennium B.C.E. and ending with the return from the Babylonian exile. The perspective is secular, in the style of European secondary school textbooks in the mid-20th century. Published in 1949, it reflected the broadening of interest in a Jewish national identity, related to but distinct from the traditional Jewish religious identity, which was taking place among Yiddish speakers at the time.



Di Idishe shprakh (1914)
This primer was intended for Yiddish-speaking primary school students with basic literacy in English but only a rudimentary knowledge of the alef-beys. Beginning with a quick review of the letters—organized by similar-looking letters rather than in the more traditional alphabetical order—it progresses rapidly to the byzantine arcana of  the relationship between loshn-koydesh (Hebrew) writing and pronunciation. For example, it uses the nikudes (vowel pointings) in the spelling of holidays and common expressions of biblical origin to illustrate the differences between the two orthographic systems.

The book’s 91 lessons culminate in an age-appropriate synopsis of the Book of Esther for Purim. The primer is a great example of the synthesis of established pedagogical practices with the new scientifically-based learning theories in full flower among progressive elements in the Yiddish-speaking world in the early 20th century.


Iliṭshs ḳinder-yorn (1941). In pamphlet format, this children’s biography of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known to the world as Lenin, covers his boyhood years in Simbirsk. Penned by the man’s own sister in Russian and translated by committee into Yiddish, this edition was printed for the Soviet press “der Emes” at the recently nationalized Yoselevich Typography in Kovno, during the brief few months after the loss of Lithuanian independence but before World War II engulfed the region. Presumably its purpose was to inculcate the children of Yiddish-speaking new Soviet citizens with due reverence for the heroes of the new régime. This was particularly important for the central role of imitation of the young Ilyich among the Oktyabryata (Young Octoberists), the youngest members of the Young Pioneers.  This style of didactic children’s biography, popular throughout the Western world at the time, would have been familiar to these students trying to make sense of the revolutionary changes happening around them.


Mitt Raj February 19, 2014