In the Vernadsky Library

editor Friday 10 August 2018 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share by email Printer friendly

By Jake Marmer.. Newly digitised recordings offer an unprecedented glimpse of the Ukrainian-Jewish past. Historical narratives are built around artifacts—preserved and frail relics from past epochs. Mythology erupts in the absence of such relics, and it is the sort of absence that doesn’t let one alone. Celebrating its first centennial this year, the Jewish Archive at the Vernadsky Library in Kiev is, perhaps, one of the oddest crossroads of history and mythology: It is filled with incredible artifacts of the Eastern European Jewish past, and yet, it hangs suspended within a cognitive void, in the absence of the community that engendered these artifacts. Growing up in Ukraine, the notion that there may exist a Jewish archive never once crossed my mind, for I simply knew nothing about the material culture such an archive might contain.

The original filing system of the archive, containing records and descriptions of its holdings, was demolished by the KGB, and its demise, in a way, mirrored the demise of access to knowledge of Judaism for people like me. Even today, there are only a limited number of scholars privy to the collection’s riches. The library has thus become a Borgesian establishment, the sort that engenders, or even necessitates, myth.

I set out to visit the library to learn more about its musical archive—a huge set of Jewish vocal and instrumental recordings from the early decades of the 20th century. It is mind-boggling that long before any serious recording technology was invented, without much funding or publicity, groups of ambitious scholars set out on ethnographic expeditions into the heartland of the Ukrainian shtetl world, aiming to capture the community’s folklore, and amassed a treasure trove of material. In recent years, these fragile, virtually unknown recordings were digitized and released in CD format. There are currently nine volumes of music out, with the three latest volumes released just within the past year. These most recent discs included the 1930s recordings of “Jewish Agricultural Colonies of the Southern Ukraine” and, oddly, a 1913 collection of fieldwork conducted in the Jewish communities of Palestine. Read the full story.



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