Homes of the Past

A Lost Jewish Museum

Homes of the Past tells the powerful story of how immigrant Jewish scholars in 1940s New York sought to build a museum to commemorate their lost worlds and people. Among the Jews who arrived in the United States in the early 1940s were a small number of Polish scholars who had devoted their professional lives to the study of Europe's Yiddish-speaking Jews at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Faced with the devastating knowledge that returning to their former homes and resuming their scholarly work there was no longer viable, they sought to address their profound sense of loss by continuing their work, under radically different circumstances, to document the European Jewish lives, places, and ways of living that were being destroyed. In pursuing this daunting agenda, they made a remarkable decision: they would create a museum to memorialize East European Jewry and educate American Jews about this legacy. YIVO scholars determinedly pursued this undertaking for several years, publicizing the initiative and collecting materials to exhibit. However, the Museum of the Homes of the Past was abandoned shortly after the war ended.

With insight and clarity, Jeffrey Shandler draws upon the surviving archival sources to tell the story of the purpose, development, and ultimate fate of the Museum of the Homes of the Past.

Homes of the Past explores this largely unknown episode of modern Jewish history and museum history and demonstrates that the project, even though it was never realized, marked a critical inflection point in the dynamic interrelations between Jews in America and Eastern Europe.


  • publisher
    Indiana University Press
  • publisher place
    Bloomington, Indiana USA
  • rights
    CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0
  • rights holder
    Trustees of Indiana University
  • rights territory