Can you read Yiddish? Speakers sought for historical documents

Yiddish speakers are being sought in order to uncover some of the secrets of Jewish immigrants to London’s East End in the late 19th and early 20th century.

As they built lives in this country, they set up Yiddish newspapers and workers began to organise themselves in unions representing trades such as the garment industry.

More than 1,500 pages of documents, written partially or entirely in Yiddish, that cover this period have already been digitised by the Modern Records Centre (MRC) at the University of Warwick. They include private letters, and pamphlets discussing industrial action from the Amalgamated Jewish Tailors’, Machinists’ and Pressers’ Trade Union and the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers.

The archive also includes an assortment of issues of Yiddish papers, including the Polish Yidel — renamed Die Zukunft (The Future) in 1884 — and Hashulamith. The MRC has at least two more boxes of papers to go through, but the problem is finding someone who understands them. “We don’t know what we’ve got because we can’t read them,” said Helen Ford, archives manager at the MRC.

“Translation will allow non-Yiddish speaking researchers to explore previously inaccessible materials,” said Dr Ford. “Even if people only want to translate half a page, that would be great.”

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Last updated: 5:03pm, October 19 2012