Hidden in the basement of the St. George Church in Lithuania for nearly 70 years, a trove of lost documents thought to have been destroyed in the Holocaust has been discovered by the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research.
"These fragile pages, saved for so long, hidden in a basement, communicate the strength, the nuance, the complexity, the vibrancy and the tremendous sweep and grandeur of a thousand years of Jewish life in eastern Europe and Russia before the Holocaust," Yivo Executive Director Jonathan Brent said.
The discovery contains 170,000 pages of handwritten letters, manuscripts, memoirs and others artifacts. They found the literary works from some of the most famous published Yiddish writers, new material in Yiddish theaters as well as many religious and communal texts going back to the 18th century.
The materials are in surprisingly good physical condition. Though David Fishman, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, said they are symbolically stained with blood.
"This a what we have left from the murdered Jews of eastern Europe," he said. "Their manuscripts, their documents, and photos."
It's also a sign of heroism. The documents were rescued from destruction by a group of ghetto inmates who worked as slave laborers for Nazi Germany.
"The inmates risked their lives to hide these materials, mostly by wrapping items around their torsos and smuggling them past German guards," Fishman said. "If they were caught, they faced death by firing squad."
Many ultimately did perish at the hands of the Nazis.
The documents were subsequently preserved for decades by Antana Ulpis, a Lithuanian librarian who kept the files in the St. George Church's basement until this day.
His son Danius Ulpis was at the Center for Jewish History Tuesday to watch as the historic documents went on display.
"If he lived today he would be immensely, immensely touched by this," he said.
To see these documents for yourself you can visit the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan through January.