People of a Thousand Towns

About the Catalog

The photographs in People of a Thousand Towns constitute a visual record of thousands of pre-World War II Jewish communities in Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. They span the late 19th century to the early 1940s and document the lives of large Jewish centers as well as many smaller towns and villages. In some cases, the pictures in the YIVO Archives are the only known photographic traces of communities later wiped out by the Nazis.

The 17,000 photographs in this catalog represent several important YIVO Archives collections of images of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. It is important to note, however, that this presentation covers only a small fraction of YIVO's extensive photographic holdings, one of the world's foremost collections of photographs of Jewish life around the world.

For a more complete listing of photographs in the YIVO Archives, please consult the Guide to the YIVO Archives (YIVO/M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1998),speak to the Archivist on duty in the CJH Reading Room, contact the YIVO Photo Archives by emailing photofilm@yivo.cjh.org, or write to YIVO Archives, 15 West 16 Street, New York, NY 10011-6301.

Most of the photographs seen here are drawn from YIVO Archives Record Group 120 (Territorial Photographic Collection), a collection of photographs collected from various sources which relate to many aspects of Jewish life in about 65 countries. Only photographs from prewar Eastern Europe (Poland, Russia, the Baltic countries, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, and Yugoslavia) have been selected to appear in this catalog.

Other photographic collections represented in People of a Thousand Towns have been drawn from:

  • Record Group 2 (Records of the Lithuanian Jewish Communities): A collection relating to Jewish communities situated in the part of Lithuania that formed the independent Republic of Lithuania from 1919 to 1940. These photographs depict Jewish communal organizations; the first Zionist Congress in Lithuania; prominent personalities, including rabbis; and Jewish towns and landmarks.

  • Record Group 358 (Papers of Joseph A. Rosen): Joseph Rosen was an official of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and served as the JDC representative at the American Relief Administration in the Soviet Union in 1921-1923. He was the Director of the American Jewish Joint Agricultural Corporation (Agro-Joint) in 1924-1929. In these capacities he organized relief for impoverished Soviet Jews. The photographs depict agricultural settlements, institutions, schools, factories, and medical centers supported by the JDC and Agro-Joint.

  • Record Group 335.9 (AJDC Photographs): Photographs depicting JDC activities in Eastern Europe from shortly after World War I through the 1930s.

  • Record Group 1270 (Alter Kacyzne Collection): Photographs taken by Alter Kacyzne, prominent Yiddish writer and professional photographer. The photographs in this collection were taken in Kacyzne's studio in Warsaw and in 70 Jewish communities in Poland between 1917 and the 1930s. Many of them were created under commission to the Jewish Daily Forward in New York. One notable series of immigration pictures were done as a work-for-hire for HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society).

  • Record Group 1223 (Roman Vishniac Collection): Original and copy prints of some of the work of the well-known photographer Roman Vishniac who traveled extensively throughout Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Rumania during the 1930s documenting Jewish communities.

  • Record Group 390 (Papers of Raphael Abramovitch): Photographs collected by the Jewish socialist leader and writer for the book, A Vanished World (Forward Association, 1947). The pictures cover prewar Jewish life in Eastern Europe.

  • Art Section of the Jewish Daily Forwards: Photographs of Jewish life in Eastern Europe from the illustrated rotogravure section of the daily Yiddish newspaper in the 1920s and 1930s. These were shot directly from the pages of the newspaper.