Photo Credit: Eve Glover

“Rise of the Yiddish Machines: The Typewriter and Yiddish Literature” will soon complete its third month at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

More than 10 million Jews spoke Yiddish on the eve of World War II – which helps explain why there was an explosion of Yiddish literature in the first half of the 20th century. But the invention of the Yiddish typewriter also played a large role. Remington, a New York based company, issued the very first Yiddish typewriter just after the turn of the century. With this invention, writer’s cramp and constant worry about smudged ink and illegible penmanship began to wane. Yiddish typewriters ushered in a new and much easier way of life.

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Talking about these typewriters, Dr. Eddy Portnoy, YIVO’s academic advisor and exhibitions curator, said, “These Yiddish machines are not only early pieces of Jewish modernity…they [also] helped spread Yiddish literature and all kinds of other Yiddish writing – from simple letters and business documents, to rabbinical sermons, novels, and poetry.

“Everyone from rabbis to journalists typed their works on Yiddish typewriters, which, by the 1920s, had become a common feature in almost any Jewish organization. Once at the forefront of technology, they are now rare antiques, sometimes selling for thousands of dollars.”

YIVO, located in the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan, will be exhibiting 10 different Yiddish typewriters dating to 1918-1950s along with original documents typed by famous Jewish authors. The exhibit is open until the end of the year.

Jonathan Brent, executive director of YIVO, said, “YIVO’s exhibit on Yiddish typewriters shows us the fascinating material culture from which so much modern Yiddish literary culture sprang. Many writers were very attached to their typewriters and considered them partners in the creation of their works.”

At the exhibit, visitors can sit down and type on an actual vintage Yiddish typewriter. Also at the exhibit is an unpublished document written in 1933 by Emanuel Ringelblum, a Jewish Polish historian, political activist, and social worker. Devoted to Yiddish and fascinated by Jewish history, Ringelblum is famous for his Oyneg Shabes Warsaw Ghetto Archive, which documents the horrific conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto and exposes Nazi crimes.

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