After surviving the Holocaust, Dina Abramowicz reconstituted her cultural heritage as head librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Hailing from Vilna, Abramowicz earned a master’s degree in philosophy and Polish literature in 1936. During the Nazi occupation, she worked as a librarian in the Vilna Ghetto, and when the ghetto was liquidated, she escaped from the transport train and became a partisan. On arriving in the United States in 1946, she became a librarian at Smith College and then at YIVO, serving as assistant librarian before becoming head librarian for twenty-five years. During her tenure, she expanded the library’s collections and was regularly sought out by scholars for her memory regarding Yiddish literature, children’s literature, the Holocaust, and Eastern European Jewish history and culture.
Renowned for her remarkable skills as a reference librarian, Dina Abramowicz built an impressive library collection at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, where she worked from 1947 until 2000. Her scholarship and expertise, praised by readers and writers alike, were celebrated by both library and cultural achievement awards.
Pre-War Life and the Holocaust
Born in Vilna, Russia (today Lithuania), on May 8, 1909, Abramowicz was raised in a culturally rich, multilingual home. Her father, Hirsh Abramowicz, was an educator, Yiddish author, and member of the Jewish Labor Bund. Her mother, Anna (Schreiber) Abramowicz, came from a prominent family of worldly female/sing.: Member of the Haskalah movement.maskilim. Abramowicz attended Yiddish and Polish gymnasia in Vilna, and received an M.A. in humanities (philosophy, Polish literature) from Stefan Batory University (1936). She was assistant to the head librarian of the [Jewish] Central Children’s Library of Vilna (1939–1941), and worked in the Vilna Ghetto Library during the Nazi occupation (1941–1943). After the ghetto was liquidated, she escaped from a deportation train and served with a Jewish partisan unit until liberation in 1944. Her mother perished at Treblinka in 1943; her younger sister survived the war in France, and her father was already on a visit to the United States in the summer of 1939.
Career in the United States
In 1946, when Abramowicz came to the United States, she resumed her career as a librarian, first at Smith College from 1946 to 1947 and subsequently at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. In 1953, she received an M.S. from the Columbia University School of Library Service. Her positions in the YIVO library included assistant librarian (1947–1962), head librarian (1962–1987), and reference librarian (1987–2000). Abramowicz’s areas of expertise included Yiddish literature (including literature in English translation and children’s literature), modern Eastern European Jewish history and culture, and the Nazi Holocaust. She published numerous studies, bibliographies, book reviews, and topical articles.
During her tenure at YIVO, she greatly expanded the library’s collection, adding books and journals in many languages. Her professional memberships included the American Library Association, the Association for Jewish Studies, and the Association of Jewish Libraries.
In recognition of her outstanding ability to assist readers—whether in person, over the phone, or by mail, Abramowicz was awarded 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).
Her positions in the YIVO included assistant librarian (1947–1962) and head librarian (1962–1987). She resigned her position as head librarian in 1987 and assumed the title of reference librarian, serving in that capacity until her death in April 2000.
"Ethnic Survival in the New World: Yiddish Juvenilia." Wilson Library Bulletin 50, no. 2 (1975): 138-145
"Di Geto-Biblyotek in Vilne" [The ghetto library of Vilna]. In Lite (Lithuania). Vol. 1, edited by Mendel Sudarsky, Uriah Katzenelenbogen, and J. Kissin (1951), cols. 1671-1678
"The World of My Parents: Reminiscences." YIVO Annual 23 (1996): 105-157
"The YIVO Library." Jewish Book Annual 24 (1967-1968): 87-102
"Yom Kippur, 1941-1945: Memories of the Vilna Ghetto." Jewish Frontier 14, no. 1 (1947): 18-22.
Axelrod, Toby. “People: Like Books in Her Care, Librarian Is a Survivor.” The Jewish Week (November 9, 1990): 2, 39.
Sharlet, Jeff. “Keeper of a Civilization.” The Book Peddler/Der Pakn-treger 21 (Spring 1996): 9–21.