About this Collection
The Library of Congress is home to a superb collection of rare children’s books and periodicals in Hebrew and Yiddish, among them the very first ever printed for children in these languages. Most of the sixty titles in this collection are still under copyright according to international law or presumed to be under copyright because they were published in the 20th century. For this reason, we present before you now only five of these titles in digital form: the five that have been determined to be in the public domain. These are freely available to anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world [Figure 1]. If you have any information about the copyright status of the other works, which are presently available on Library of Congress premises, please contact email@example.com.
The other fifty-five books and periodicals have also been fully digitized, but because of the copyright issue the Library of Congress has chosen to err on the side of caution and make these digitized books available only onsite here in the Library of Congress. But a complete list of these books, together with bibliographic information, is available in a Finding Aid in PDF form. Here in the Library, readers are able to access the digital files via Stacks, a special collection of digitized materials still under copyright protection and available at designated computer terminals in the African and Middle Eastern Division and throughout the library campus in Washington, D.C.
The Historical Introduction, auxiliary resources and links appended to this website are designed, to help readers both on and offsite get a better sense of the collection as a whole.
The sixty titles in this collection date from the early decades of the 20th century and they reflect many of the most important trends in this crucial period of Jewish history: the rising winds of secularism; the shift from the Old World to the New; the fall of Czarist Russia and the release of millions from the Jewish Pale of Settlement. They reflect the growing tension within the Jewish community over questions of national identity and the search for new ways, new aesthetics, and new beginnings. They also reflect the polarization of ideologies and the increasing competition between Hebrew and Yiddish: Yiddish was the language of the Jewish masses, of everyday life; Hebrew, the language of national rebirth and of the pioneers in Eretz Israel. Proponents of both languages recognized the need to create a viable children’s literature; a literature rich enough in content and beautiful enough in appearance to compete with the wonderful children’s books being printed in the non-Jewish world. In their zeal to create this literature, each camp harnessed the finest writers of the day, the best artists, the most accomplished editors and translators. The result was a Golden Age of illustrated books for children in both Hebrew and Yiddish during the early decades of the 20th century.
The books in this collection are rare; in some cases, extremely rare and even unique. The same countries that gave birth to so many of these beautiful books – Russia, Germany, Poland – were also the countries in which the Jews experienced pogroms, the depredations of World War I, the atrocities of the Holocaust. What do families escaping war and persecution take with them? The answer is rarely children’s books. For this reason, the Library of Congress has preserved books that have long since disappeared in the lands in which they were printed. Only here, for example, in the Library of Congress, do we find first editions of some of the beautiful picture books first printed by Omanut Press in Moscow and Odessa during the years of the Russian Revolution [see Figure 2]. Elsewhere these books have survived only in a later edition printed in Frankfurt am Main.
Time has not been kind to these books. Many of them were printed on paper of inferior quality and today are literally crumbling away, preserved only through the dedicated efforts of expert conservators here in the Library of Congress. It is a curious anomaly in books that were otherwise printed with every attention to quality. One can only assume that the publishers were simply unable to obtain better paper. The lack of good paper was especially pronounced in the war-torn lands of the former Russian Empire. Take, for example, the Yiddish-language Shreṭelakh, a periodical for children published in Kiev in 1919. Its writers included Leib Kvitko and David Hofshteyn; the exquisite artwork was created by Joseph Tchaikov and Alexander Tyshler. Clearly, the editors were interested only in the best. Yet it was printed on tissue thin paper; in the image seen here [Figure 3] the paper seems practically transparent; the back of the page shows through in reverse. The fragility of the item is breath-taking, and when we consider the fact that only one issue of Shretelakh ever got published, we can only be grateful that any copies have survived at all.