By GAIL FINEBERG
The Library of Congress has acquired an important collection that documents Jewish life in Luboml, one of the oldest Jewish communities in Poland, before the Nazis occupied the region and exterminated the Jewish population between 1939 and 1941.
The collection, which includes more than 2,000 rare photographs, photographic negatives, letters, maps, oral histories and other materials, is a gift to the Library from New York City businessman Aaron Ziegelman, who was born in Luboml in 1928 and immigrated to the United States with his mother and sister in 1938.
Ziegelman said he and his wife, Marjorie, were overwhelmed by the symbolism of the collection coming to the Library. "When I saw the official [instrument of gift] signed by a boy from Luboml and Dr. Billington, who signed on behalf of the United States of America, so many emotions enveloped me," he said. "The Jews of Luboml had dreamed of coming to America, a place they referred to as the golden land. Even though they never reached our shores, their spirits have now found a home at the Library of Congress."
A successful real-estate entrepreneur, Ziegelman wanted to enrich his memories of the vibrant shtetl of his childhood and also to share the story of Luboml's Jewish community. In 1994, Ziegelman organized a research project that engaged archivists, anthropologists and historians in the collection, preservation and analysis of information about Jewish life in Luboml.
He also established the Aaron Ziegelman Foundation, which, in addition to assembling this documentary collection, provided for a major traveling exhibition, "Remembering Luboml: Images of a Jewish Community"; a book, "Luboml: The Memorial Book of a Vanished Shtetl"; and the documentary film, "Luboml: My Heart Remembers."
Fred Wasserman, now associate curator of the Jewish Museum in New York and founding director of the Ziegelman project, said materials for the collection came from some 100 families scattered over three continents. Typical of Jews who left many little towns in Poland between 1918 and the mid-1920s, these people emigrated from Luboml to the United States, Canada, and Latin America, and many were early settlers in Palestine, before the Jewish state of Israel was created in 1948.
"They left Poland for the standard reasons—better economic opportunities and Zionism," explained Jill Vexler, executive director of the Luboml Exhibition Project. Their memories are preserved in the Luboml materials that document Jewish community life—religious holidays, weddings, schools, businesses and recreation. Life as portrayed in Luboml was similar to that in other Eastern European shtetls during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Michael Grunberger, head of the Library's Hebraic Section, said the Ziegelman collection adds "a remarkable dimension to the already rich Judaic collections in the Library of Congress.
"The Ziegelman collection shows how Jews lived before the Second World War, not how they died," Grunberger said. "It depicts Libivners not as victims but as human beings fully engaged in the business of living, and it serves as a window looking out onto a vanished world, providing us with a clear view of a time and place that is no more."
Wasserman said 90 percent of Luboml's population vanished with the arrival of the Nazis, who marched between 4,000 and 5,000 Jews out of the town, shot them, and buried them in mass graves. Located 200 miles southeast of Warsaw, Luboml is now part of Ukraine.
The Aaron Ziegelman Foundation Collection will be in the custody of the Archive of Folk Culture, which is part of the American Folklife Center. "We are thrilled that Aaron Ziegelman has donated this wonderful collection to the Library," said Peggy A. Bulger, the center's director. "It is an incredibly rich collection that will permit researchers to better understand myriad aspects of a Jewish community's culture as it existed before World War II."
The Librarian announced the acquisition during a brief ceremony in his office on Oct. 30. He commended Ziegelman and his associates for having "kept alive a memory that others sought to destroy."
Among those attending the ceremony, in addition to the Ziegelmans, Wasserman, Vexler, Grunberger and Bulger, were Premyslaw Grudzinki, ambassador of the Republic of Poland; Eileen Douglas and Ron Steinman, producers of the film "Luboml: My Heart Remembers"; and David Taylor, head of acquisitions for the American Folklife Center.
The film was shown in the Mary Pickford Theater the night of Oct. 30. Douglas and Steinman discussed their film during a private reception before and after the screening. Steinman was a former NBC News Bureau chief in Saigon, Hong Kong, and London; and Douglas was a former news anchor for 1010 WINS Radio in New York City.
Gail Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newsletter.