Musterverk fun der yidisher literatur (Masterworks of Yiddish Literature) Now Accessible

January 26, 2022

The Yiddish Book Center in partnership with La Fundación IWO Instituto Judío de Investigación in Buenos Aires has announced the digitization and addition of the 100-volume Musterverk fun der yidisher literatur to the Yiddish Book Center’s Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library.

The 100-volume Musterverk fun der yidisher literatur (Masterworks of Yiddish Literature), published between 1957 and 1984, was the work of founding director of the Argentinian branch of YIVO (IWO) and prominent educator Shmuel Rollansky (Ro-ZHAN-sky). Acutely aware of the challenges facing Yiddish in the postwar period, Rollansky not only set out to make a vast corpus of Yiddish works widely available, but he also hoped to cultivate a new generation of readers who might otherwise assume Yiddish to be irrelevant or outdated.

The series demonstrates the impressive breadth of Yiddish letters. Rollansky gathered and reprinted works of well-known Yiddish “classics,” including Sholem Aleichem, I. L. Peretz, Mendele, and Sholem Asch. In addition, he also included works by his contemporaries who were actively publishing during the years of the series’ run, such as Avrom Sutzkever, Kadya Molodowsky, and Itzik Manger. He even included works of early Yiddish literature and insisted on expanding the canon of Yiddish letters to include the works of lesser-known writers.

According to the Yiddish Book Center’s research bibliographer David Mazower, “These 100 volumes are truly special. They include unique anthologies of Latin American Yiddish literature, wonderful one-off volumes such as one full of poems celebrating the Yiddish language, and reprints of hard-to-find classic works. They are an essential part of modern Yiddish literature, and scholars have long hoped to see them digitized. We’re delighted to add these books to our Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library and enormously grateful to the Buenos Aires IWO and its director, Avrom Lichtenbaum, for helping us make them available to Yiddish readers everywhere.”

For the first time this 100-volume series has been digitized and is freely available to read online or download in the Yiddish Book Center’s Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library. The addition of the 100-volume Musterverk fun der yidisher literatur (Masterworks of Yiddish Literature) is a boon to scholars, students, and translators as well as those interested in Yiddish culture.

“Bringing historical materials online is a long-term challenge that involves interacting with new technologies and taking care of provenance issues in rescued collections. For IWO it is a great joy to be able to collaborate with the Yiddish Book Center that has been a pioneer in this field,” said Silvia Hansman, Director of archives and collections in IWO. “We are very excited about this new collaboration and hope that this step will encourage further collective action to improve access to the Jewish cultural heritage we guard.”

Since 2009, the Yiddish Book Center has made more than 11,000 titles available online in its Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library. The comprehensive collection includes works of fiction, memoirs, poetry, plays, short stories, science manuals, cookbooks, primers, and more by renowned Yiddish authors and lesser-known writers alike. To date, those titles have been downloaded an astonishing 1.6 million times.

The addition of the series is part of the Yiddish Book Center’s ongoing work digitizing Yiddish literature and making it freely available. Other recently digitized works added to the Center’s Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library include works by Chaim Grade (completing the collection of Chaim Grade’s work now available in the Digital Yiddish Library); three volumes by Avrom Sutzkever; major works by Chava Rosenfarb and Celia Dropkin; works by the leading Soviet Yiddish writers Peretz Markish, Leyb Kvitko, and Dovid Hofshteyn; and Chil Aronson’s 600-page classic work about the art scene in Montparnasse.

An annotated guide to the Musterverk series can be found here.

IWO Buenos Aires was founded in 1928 as an offshoot of YIVO Vilna to document the mass Jewish immigration to South America and preserve their heritage for future generations. By 1935, IWO had established the largest specialized archives and library of Yiddish literature and culture in the region. IWO also functioned as a prolific publisher for local writers and organized major international crowdsourcing projects such as the 100 Masterpieces of Yiddish Literature. IWO also worked closely with local authors and other publishers, such as the Society of Former Residents of Poland (known as Poilisher Farvand), in publishing and distributing the “dos poylshe idntum” series.