60 Minutes Episode on Paper Brigade--in Lithuania and How Hidden Jewish Papers Survived #holocaust #lithuania

Jan Meisels Allen


On November 13, 60 Minutes aired an episode on the Paper Brigade--writers and intellectuals living in what is now Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital smuggled artwork, books and rare manuscripts–hiding them in bunkers. Today, 80 years after the Paper Brigade fought back against cultural genocide —their heroics are still unfolding. There's an active search-and-rescue mission underway in Vilnius, where troves of hidden material continue to be uncovered, discovered and recovered.

In the summer of 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and occupied Lithuania. Many of the local citizens collaborated with the Nazis and within six months, 50,000 of the 70,000 Vilnius Jews were killed.

One of the worst slaughters during the Holocaust. Some 90% to 95% of the Jewish population of Lithuania was murdered brutally, cruelly, sadistically.


When the Germans invaded Vilnius a special squad of Nazis commandeered YIVO’s headquarters-with the intent of looting the rare books and art and burning everything else.  But the Nazis needed help assessing what was valuable, so they rounded up 40 Jewish writers and artists mockingly nicknamed the Paper Brigade to sort through rooms upon rooms housing YIVO's collection. But the Paper Brigade had other ideas. They set aside the most significant manuscripts and art, including a sketch by Picasso, and organized a smuggling operation back to the ghetto. Homemade diapers sewn into their pants concealed the contraband from the Nazi guards. They had ten hiding places, the largest was underneath a house, 60 feet down and accessible only through a sewage tunnel.


In 1944, the Soviets liberated Lithuania and reclaimed the country as part of the Soviet Union. Only eight of the 40 members of the Paper Brigade had survived the war. Armed with a homemade wheelbarrow and shovels, they dug up the treasures from their hiding places.


To see the episode go to: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paper-brigade-jewish-artifacts-holocaust-60-minutes-2022-11-13/


Jonathan Brent from YIVO was featured as several of the Paper Brigade stuffed suitcases with books and enlisted couriers  redirecting materials to YIVO in New York City where the institute had relocated during the war.  The rest of the material was assumed destroyed. A brave Catholic librarian, took up the cause in Vilnius. Risking his own life, Antanas Ulpis hid whatever was left behind in this empty Catholic church.


It is available in Canada and the United States. I do not know about other locales.


Jan Meisels Allen

Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee



An excellent book on the Paper Brigade is The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis, by David Fishman.  (Fishman happens to be my 3rd cousin, once removed, but we have never met.)

Ellen Morosoff Pemrick 
Saratoga County, NY


Susan J. Gordon

It was an excellent piece - one segment, 20 minutes - I wish it were longer!

Susan J Gordon
New York


It was an outstanding piece.  is there a possibility that it is available for use in a  program. 
Dina Abramowicz, one of the librarians from YIVO in Vilna who survived the Shoah, came to NYC city  and became the head librarian at YIVO in NY!
Avivah R. Z. Pinski 
Wynnewood, PA (near Philadelphia)
Researching:  Reznik-Drohiczyn, Poland
Zuchman - Sarnaki, Warsaw, Poland
Sundak - Latvia;  Slonim -  Belarus
Rifczes - Ukraine, Austria; Kopeikin - Belarus
Pinski - Mogilew, Belarus

Jan Meisels Allen

If  you want to use it for a program I would suggest getting in touch with 60 minutes. I don't have their contact information. I would start by looking it up or CBS

Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

Steve Stein

The book has been out for a few years. It is excellent.

Jonathan Brent spoke to JGSNY in December 2018 on the subject of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Collections Project. The audio is available for free on the JGSNY website.

Steve Stein
President, JGSNY