Archives, Audio archives, Historical documents, Historical research, Historiography, Jewish archival resources, Klezmer, Library, Research, Ukraine, USSR, Writers

Jewish folk music from 1908 on wax cylinders in a unique phono-archive in Kiev

In my last post I mentioned a phonographic archive located in the Manuscript Institute of the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine.

Vernadsky National Library of the Ukraine in Kiev
Vernadsky National Library of the Ukraine

The library holds one of the largest collections of phonographic recordings of Jewish musical folklore in the world – including Jewish synagogue singing –  on more than 1000 wax cylinders.

Before I worked in an archives I remembered  hearing news-stories about things being discovered in different archival repositories and I couldn’t understand – why didn’t they know what was in their collection?

But now that I understand better how many unique items are housed in archives, I see that not everything can be added to a searchable list.

Not to mention the political restrictions that can make archival materials unavailable and even subject to destruction.

In January 1949 the Soviet government confiscated the entire archival collection of the Institute of Jewish Culture and arrested almost all of its employees including Moishe Beregovski who I wrote about last week and about whom I fictionalized a story called Pale Shadow*.

After the break-up of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in the early 1990s, the Vernadsky collection of wax cylinder recordings became publicly available and researchers have been going through them ever since – a veritable renaissance.

The collection includes music collected by several generations of cultural researchers who gathered material from as early as 1908 out of Belarus where there was a large Jewish diaspora as well as a plethora of traditional religious centres.

A huge project to re-recording the collection was carried out between 1996 and 1999, from which a  CD was produced, “Treasures of Jewish Culture in Ukraine”, in 1997.


*I entered Pale Shadow into a story contest that the magazine Prairie Fire ran so don’t want to jeopardize my entry by posting it here yet.