A professor of Jewish history doesn't mince words: "It's the most important find since the Dead Sea Scrolls," David Fishman tells Fox News. He's referring to a trove of Jewish documents that were long assumed to have been destroyed in Lithuania during the Holocaust—but they survived, only to resurface in 2016, reports the AP. New York's YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which in tandem with the Lithuanian government is archiving the 170,000 pages, announced their discovery this week in a press release. Their tale of survival is an improbable one: The New York Times reports YIVO was founded in what's now the Lithuanian capital of Vilna in 1925, and it served as "the world’s foremost library of Jewish life in Eastern Europe." And the Nazis wanted it destroyed—or most of it.
It ordered some 40 Yiddish speakers to sift through the documents and retain a third of the choicest ones, which would be sent to Germany for study. But the "Paper Brigade" risked death to take and hide books and documents in six locations throughout the ghetto. Lithuanian librarian Antanas Ulpis similarly risked his life to hide the documents from the Soviets who pushed out the Germans, keeping them safe in the basement of St. George Church. The Soviet Union's collapse brought some 250,000 pages kept there to light. But it turns out 170,000 pages had been stored elsewhere in the basement; they only surfaced as part of a 2016 move. The Times describes the new pages as "even more valuable and compelling." Among the finds, which Fishman says will take "decades" to analyze: a postcard written by Marc Chagall, and two letters by Sholem Aleichem, whose stories served as the basis for Fiddler on the Roof. (Another big find in Vilna.)