YIVO Bruce and Francesca Cernia Slovin Online Museum

An Interactive Journey through Jewish History of Eastern Europe

The first exhibition, Beba Epstein: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Girl uses interactive storytelling to contextualize hundreds of artifacts from the YIVO archives, taking the user on a journey of discovery. It is based on the life of a young girl named Beba Epstein, born in Vilna, Poland (now Vilnius, Lithuania), in 1922, whose autobiography was discovered in 2017. You will discover that despite her exceptional fate, Beba is not so different from any other young teenager today.

Instructionsshow
A brief overview of the exhibition

The storyline of the exhibition is divided into chapters, and each chapter focuses on a specific topic. You can follow the whole story from beginning to end or explore individual chapters - all chapters are full stories in themselves. Each chapter contains several levels of information that enable you to explore the content in greater depth:

  • Level 1: Beba's story, is the main content of each chapter;
  • Level 2: context boxes which offer further information about the historical context of the time
  • Level 3: artifacts (documents, videos, photographs, objects, scholar texts) that expand the main topic of each chapter
  • Level 4: links to YIVO resources including the YIVO Encyclopedia, online classes, and recordings of lectures appear throughout the chapters, allowing you to learn about an issue in greater depth.

You can explore the content of the exhibition at your own pace.

Beba standing in front of picture of Vilna

Welcome message from the Director

Jonathan Brent, Executive Director & CEO, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

Welcome to the YIVO Bruce and Francesca Cernia Slovin Online Museum. For 95 years, the great archives and library of The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research have supplied scholars and researchers with information about the real life of the Jewish people of Eastern Europe and Russia. Through the YIVO Cernia Slovin Online Museum, YIVO can now share these treasures with the world through the life stories of actual individuals. Through these stories, supplemented with rare or unique artifacts, documents, photographs and books, we discover the richness and power of Jewish civilization of Eastern Europe and Russia but also the inner humanity of the people that links them to us and to all men and women around the world in every age. We are profoundly grateful to Bruce Slovin for his generous support of the YIVO Cernia Slovin Online Museum.

I hope you find this experience both gratifying and illuminating and that you will continue to explore all YIVO has to offer both through our website and by visiting YIVO in person at our location in New York City.

Curatorial Statement

Karolina Ziulkoski, Chief Curator, YIVO Bruce and Francesca Cernia Slovin Online Museum

The central issue that guided the development of the project was understanding what defines a standalone online museum. We are used to seeing the digital presence of museums as an extension of a physical institution, usually focused on exploring existing on-site collections. But when a museum exists only online, as is the case of the YIVO Bruce and Francesca Cernia Slovin Online Museum, do the same principles apply?

This led to rethinking the concept of an online museum. How can the behavior of users in digital environments be leveraged to make digital exhibitions more engaging? What can only be done effectively online? From the answers to these questions emerged the framework of the YIVO Cernia Slovin Online Museum. Taking advantage of a medium that is ideal for storytelling and a multiplicity of interactive experiences, the exhibitions of the online museum are narratives based on the life of a person told through a combination of different archival objects, written text, animations, videos, interactive 3D environments, games, and more.

These narratives contextualize the artifacts from the archives and show the importance of conservation and archival work. Personal stories are the thread that connect and present different topics of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. All stories are broken into chapters. Each focuses on a specific topic – a series of experiences that visitors can undergo as a whole or individually.

The task of creating a museum, online, from over 23 million archival items that range from family objects to historical documents, photos, videos, books, and a myriad of other materials seemed quite daunting at first. However, all these seemingly disparate artifacts present something very cohesive: the life of a society, with all its paradoxes, imperfections, changes, adaptations, outstanding and mundane moments. What the museum does is to recreate and immerse the audience in this thriving civilization through the life story of a single individual.

About

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is dedicated to the preservation and study of the history and culture of East European Jewish life worldwide. The YIVO Archives contains more than 23 million original items, and YIVO's Library has over 400,000 volumes-the single largest resource for such study in the world.

The YIVO Bruce and Francesca Cernia Slovin Online Museum was established in 2018 with a generous $3 million gift from Bruce Slovin in memory of his late wife, Francesca Cernia Slovin for the purpose of telling the story of Jewish life in Eastern Europe and Russia through YIVO’s world-renowned archival and library collections.

Future exhibitions will span the history of East European Jewish life over four centuries. The next exhibition, now under development for adult audiences, will focus on the life of Chaim Zhitlovsky (1865-1943), a noted Jewish socialist, philosopher, writer, and thinker, whose life and work became a focal point for the most significant issues facing the Jewish people of Eastern Europe and Russia between the end of the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s.

For now, we invite you to delve into Beba Epstein’s fascinating story!