19th June, 2013
David Levy suggested Dina Abramowicz as a subject for Women of Library History. Kristen Hogan, English Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies Librarian at the University of Texas Libraries, did further research into Dina Abramowicz’s life and wrote this post. We were unable to find a fair-use image of Abramowicz for this post, but you can see a photo of her online at the Museum of Jewish Heritage's website.
When she arrived in New York in 1946, Dina Abramowicz had experience with reference librarianship as a vital service profession. In Vilna, Lithuania, Abramowicz had studied Polish literature at university, served as librarian of the Jewish children’s library, and become a member of YIVO, the Yiddish Scientific Institute. When the Nazis began isolating Jews into ghettos, Abramowicz served as a librarian in the ghetto library. Abramowicz escaped from a work camp and was active in the Jewish resistance before she made her way to New York.
Jewish people from Vilna who had escaped to New York had brought thousands of books and artifacts with them from the YIVO Library of the Yiddish Scientific Institute. Dina Abramowicz helped to rebuild the YIVO Library in New York, and she worked there from 1947 until her death in 2000. She served as head librarian of the YIVO Library for 25 years, from 1962 until 1987 (Berger).
To the journalists, historians, genealogists, and other researchers and community members who visited or called the YIVO Library, Abramowicz provided critical analyses of and authority on transliterations of Yiddish words, connections to histories through often-rare texts, and an irreplaceable knowledge of history and literature. Esther Hautzig, a New York book editor, writer, and friend of Abramowicz from Vilna, said of her: “No computer on earth can store the information she had in her brain because she lived through it” (Berger).
Abramowicz received awards that were one recognition of her substantial expertise: “the Dr. Chaim Zhitlowsky Prize (Yiddisher Kultur Farband, 1987), the Dr. Berl Frimer Prize for Cultural Achievement (Congress for Jewish Culture, 1992), and the Leonard Wertheimer Multicultural Public Library Service Award (Public Library Association of the American Library Association, 1994)” (Baker). The YIVO Institute now hosts the Dina Abramowicz Emerging Scholar Fellowship for post-doctoral research in Eastern European Jewish Studies with a stipend for research at the YIVO Library and Archives (YIVO). The Jewish Women’s Archive includes a selected list of her publications: http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/abramowicz-dina (Baker).
Baker, Zachary M. “Dina Abramowicz, 1909-2000.” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women’s Archive. Web. 23 April 2013.
Berger, Joseph. “Dina Abramowicz, 90, Librarian and Yiddish Expert, Dies.” New York Times. 9 Apr 2000: 39. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. 19 Apr. 2013.
YIVO Institute. “Research Fellowships 2013-14.” YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Web. 19 Apr 2013.