Librarian of Jewish life dies at 90


NEW YORK, April 5 (JTA) — Dina Abramowicz, a survivor of the Vilna Ghetto and a longtime librarian at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, died Monday at the age of 90.

A small, slim woman, with a tall intellect, Abramowicz was a “bookworm” supremely dedicated to intellectual pursuits, said David Rogow, a longtime friend.

“Scholars from all around the world would write to her with queries. And she answered everybody,” said Rogow, himself a translator and editor at YIVO. Abramowicz was “one of the last of the intelligentsia from Vilna,” which was known as a great center of Jewish intellectual life.

Rogow recalled how Abramowicz, known for her prodigious memory, would call him excitedly when a new book or journal arrived on her desk.

Abramowicz was a scholar herself who spoke four languages — Russian, Yiddish, Polish and English — fluently. The most recent of her numerous studies, biographies and book reviews was “Guardians of a Tragic Heritage,” a speech in which she recounted her wartime experiences as a librarian in the Vilna Ghetto.

Abramowicz was born in 1909 in a prominent Lithuanian Jewish family that was active in the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment. Her father, Hirsh, was the director of a Jewish girls school in Vilna who survived World War II because he was in New York when fighting broke out.

During the war, Abramowicz worked as a librarian in the Vilna Ghetto Library. After the ghetto was liquidated, she escaped from a deportation train and fought in the Resistance.

In 1946, when she immigrated to the United States, she was reunited with her father.

Abramowicz joined YIVO in 1947. In 1962, she was named head librarian at YIVO, a library and archive of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, overseeing the library’s acquisition of major collections. In 1987, she became the institute’s research librarian.

In 1999, her father’s book, “Profiles of a Lost World: Memoirs of East European Jewish Life Before World War II,” was published in English.

“The appearance of the book is like a dream come true,” she said at the time. “It fills me with joy that something so precious, which seemed to be hopelessly forgotten, has suddenly come back to life.”

Abramowicz was a film, theater and opera buff who enjoyed walks through Central Park — but it was her commitment to her work that friends and colleagues remember.

“Her work was everything. Even when she was ill, she would come to the library. When she worked here, she was another person,” said Rogow.

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