The lot of Jewish collections
During last pre-Revolutionary decade, extremely rich collections of Jewish manuscripts, books, documents and objects were collected. The expeditions of the Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society run by S. An-sky sent the artifacts of Jewish culture to St. Petersburg to save them. The materials were so numerous that they could not all be housed in two small rooms in the almshouse on Vasilievskiy Island that were allotted for the museum. Hundreds of Torah scrolls were stored in the Choral Synagogue. In 1918, some items from the collection of the Jewish Museum were moved to the Ethnographic Department of the Russian Museum (today Russia's Ethnographic Museum). Documents, books, wax cylinders with folklore recordings and other items were saved in the collections of the Jewish Museum. The library of the OPE was also situated in St. Petersburg; 80% of its 60,000 volumes were books on Judaism.
The Bolshevik policy of discrediting and then abolishing all ethnic cultural societies in the late 1920s and early 1930s reached the most popular and respected Jewish societies, the OPE and EIEO. The campaign to destroy them began already in 1928 when the authorities decided to confiscate all Jewish documents and archives belonging to private citizens to collect them under the control of Communist ideologists and the NKVD. For that reason, in Kiev, in 1929, the Institute of Jewish Culture was established and a Jewish Archive section was attached to it. The press began a campaign to harass old Jewish scientific and cultural societies. Members of those societies were accused of bourgeois nationalism, for their links with Zionists and - absurdly - with fascists. In 1930, by decree of the Lenoblispolkom, the OPE and EIEO were abolished. The authorities began the confiscation of their archives, libraries and collections.
The confiscated collections were sent to Kiev; some of them were passed to state museums. So, according to the acts of formal acceptance of the late 1920s, the Museum of Religious History accepted carts of "leather scrolls". Were the hundreds of Torah scrolls that had been confiscated from the Leningrad Choral Synagogue among them? We cannot answer the question at present. The archival documents that came to the Jewish Archive Section were registered by weight and volume. The documents were not stored in specially equipped rooms. There was a lack of qualified experts to sort, identify, and systemize them; and those who could do it were dismissed or arrested during the "purges". The funds of the OPE library made up more than half of all the Jewish books sent to Kiev. The books were sent to the All-People Ukrainian Library (today the Vernadsky Central Scientific Library of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Ukraine). The wax cylinders with folklore recordings were stored there as well.
The collection of items confiscated from the Jewish Museum in Leningrad was passed to Odessa, to the Museum of Jewish Proletarian Culture established there. That Museum was destroyed during the Nazi occupation and all the traces of the collection were lost. The fate of the collections concentrated in Kiev was less tragic. The Nazis intended to send the books to Germany, but bad weather and poor road conditions prevented them. The Jewish documents and books were stored under piles of other documents. It was difficult both for the invaders and for the NKVD officers who intended to destroy the documents after the war to reach these documents. In 1951, some documents on the activity of the Jewish societies themselves before the Revolution were returned to Leningrad and stored in TsGIAL. Since the early 1990s, the Jewish books and documents have been sorted, certified and researched; work continues to this day.
Materials that had been moved to the Russian Museum in 1918 were luckier. They were in the hands of experts. In the 1970s and 1980s, at the insistence of the museum's head archivist, L.B. Uritskaya, the items were carefully sorted, restored and classified. Now, they are the pride of the museum's Jewish collection; they are called the "The An-sky Collection". In the 1990s, the Jewish collections of the museum were displayed in many countries. The last to see them were St. Petersburg inhabitants. In 1997, when the collections returned from abroad, an exhibition named "...And the Wind Passed Over Him" took place in the rooms of Russia's Ethnographic Museum for a month.
Scroll of Torah. Photo