New York: The American public is getting a chance to view newly discovered Jewish documents that had been presumed destroyed during the Holocaust.
Ten documents on loan from Lithuania's national library went on display on Tuesday at New York's YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which is working with the Lithuanian government to archive the 170,000-page collection.
A librarian in Lithuania hid the documents in a church basement to protect them from the Nazis during World War II. They resurfaced during a move in 2016, and YIVO confirmed their significance this year.
The wide-ranging collection includes manuscripts by famous Yiddish writers, religious writings, poetry and record books of shuls and yeshivas. There are letters by Sholem Aleichem, whose writings inspired the "Fiddler on the Roof" character Tevye, and a Yiddish postcard written by the artist Marc Chagall in 1935.
Another major cache of historical artifacts was found in the church in 1991.
"The troves discovered in Lithuania are the most important body of material in Jewish history and culture to be unearthed in more than half a century, since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls," said David Fishman, professor of Jewish history at The Jewish Theological Seminary, who went to Lithuania in July to evaluate the documents.
They are "startlingly large in volume, and remarkably diverse in character and subject matter," Fishman said. "All of East European Jewish life passes through your eyes. It will take researchers many years to digest and analyse these documents."
Highlights of the Manhattan exhibition, which can be seen by appointment until January, include a 1751 astronomy manuscript with descriptions and drawings of the solar system and an 1883 Russian censor's copy of a theatrical poem by Abraham Goldfaden, founder of the modern Yiddish theater.