Beginning in the 13th Century, Jews and Germans from Hanseatic towns were invited by the nobility of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to settle in their lands.  The goal was to establish in Poland and Lithuania trading centers similar to those which increased the prosperity of the nobility in Western Europe.  The Jews were issued charters of rights which guaranteed that they could keep their language, religion, and culture and granted them limited self-government.

The language that the Jews brought with them was a modified version of the German that was spoken in the Hanseatic port towns.  This “Jüdische Sprache” – Jewish language – is known today as Yiddish.

By 1700, the majority of European Jews lived in the federated state known as the “Commonwealth of the Two Nations,” the two nations being the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.  Like all languages, regional dialects developed in Yiddish, with one dialect being “Litvish Yiddish” (Lithuanian Yiddish), Yiddish as was spoken in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which today is largely in Lithuania and Belarus.  Litvish Yiddish was the language that Jews in Lithuania spoke at home and with each other.  It was also learned by many non-Jews who interacted with Jews.

The vast majority of Jewish speakers of Litvish Yiddish were murdered in the summer and fall of 1941.

Nearly fifty years later, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Prof. Hirsh-Dovid Katz (Dovid) embarked upon a 30-year effort to interview and record the voices of the last generation of Litvish Yiddish speakers.  Dovid is the son of the Yiddish writer Menke Katz (1906-1991), a native of the Švencionys who emigrated to Israel and the U.S.  Dovid was born in Brooklyn and received a Ph.D. in Yiddish from the University of London.  He was teaching at Oxford University when Lithuania regained its independence and soon after he began teaching at Vilnius University.

From 1990 until 2020, Dovid interviewed many native Jewish and non-Jewish speakers of Litvish-Yiddish who lived in Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, and elsewhere.  All of these interviews were recorded, and most were video-recorded.

Each of those whom he interviewed during the 30-year period has since passed away; and the older audio-recordings are beginning to deteriorate.  Preserving the interview recordings now is of great importance.  For this reason, in 2020 Dovid launched the Lithuanian-Yiddish Video Archives project to digitize the hundreds of hours of recordings and make them available for free to the public and researchers.  The interviews are currently posted online.

Remembering Litvaks, Inc., and the David and Barbara B. Hirschhorn Foundation have joined with others to support this important preservation work.