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Sholem Asch papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 115

Scope and Contents

The Sholem Asch Papers consist of writings, correspondence, printed material, photographs, and artwork which document the life and work of the Yiddish writer and activist Sholem Asch. The collection spans the years 1907 to 1956, the bulk of the material from 1923 to 1949, during which time Asch wrote all of his major novels.

The Papers are housed in 23 boxes (18.20 linear feet) and are arranged into four series: Writings, Correspondence, Photographs, and Other Papers. Boxes 17-23 contain Oversize items. The collection was previously classified as Hebrew Manuscripts +45 and Asch Collection ZA1-ZA6 and Folio 217-218. These old call numbers are either on the items themselves, or have been noted on folders as an aid to researchers who may wish to locate materials previously cited under that numbering system. Transliteration and verification of titles which appear in this listing was provided by Keith Weiser, a student assistant.

The Sholem Asch Papers contain most of Asch's major works as a novelist, including the extremely controversial Der Man fun Notseres (The Nazarene), although it does not contain such earlier works as The Shtetl, for which he first became famous as a novelist. Complementing these works are reviews, playbills, programs, photographs of productions of his plays, and a small but revealing body of correspondence as well as several essays and appeals on behalf of European Jewry, all of which provide insight into Asch's character and his role as a spokesman for and activist in the Jewish community, both in the United States and in Europe.

Series I, Writings , occupies 13 boxes and has been organized into four subseries: Novels, Plays, Essays and Appeals, and Other Writings. Almost all of the manuscripts are holographs and typescripts in Yiddish. Within each subseries works have been arranged alphabetically by transliterated title. The English translation of the title is also noted.

The Novels include Der Man fun Notseres (The Nazarene), Baym Opgrunt (The War Goes On), Der Sheliekh (The Apostle), Dray Shtet (Three Cities), Toyt Urteyl (Death Sentence), Farn Mabl (Before the Flood), Gots Gefangene (Prisoners of God), and Vos Ikh Gloyb (What I Believe). The novels are written mostly in Asch's hand, although there are several major sections that seem to be in another hand. This occurs in Der Man fun Notseres (The Nazarene) and "Varshe" (Warsaw) in Dray Shtet (Three Cities), and has been noted in the register. There are some typescripts as well, with corrections in Asch's hand. The novels are generally complete, though there are often irregularities with pagination, including large gaps between page numbers, indicating possible missing pages. There are revisions of chapters and excised fragments, and several folders of unidentified fragments. There are also photographs and printed material in this subseries, most of them advertisements and reviews. There are also four essays on the subject of Der Man fun Notseres (The Nazarene), a scrapbook of reviews for Dray Shtet (folder 259), and a mounted photograph of a woodcarving inspired by Der Man fun Notseres by Abraham L. Wolbarst (folder 64). These materials have been placed after the manuscripts they pertain to, in chronological order.

The Plays, mostly holographs and typescripts written in Yiddish, include Got fun Nekome (God of Vengeance) with an English translation, Koyln (Coals), Yoysef (Josef), and Rebe Doktor Zilber (Rabbi Dr. Silber). Only the first three of these plays are complete. There are four unidentified plays, which may not be complete. There are also photographs and printed material, primarily playbills, programs and reviews. These materials have been placed after the manuscripts they pertain to, in chronological order.

Essays and Appeals contains several political essays and appeals written before World War II. Many are addressed to government officials and writers in Europe on behalf of European Jews, and Polish Jews in particular. Approximately half of the material in this section consists of holographs in Yiddish, the rest are English typescripts.

The final subseries, Other Writings, contains a brief autobiography and writings by Asch about his collection of Judaica, two short stories, one of which is unidentified and incomplete, verses in memory of H. D. Nomberg, and unidentified writing fragments. There are also playbills, programs, and reviews related to miscellaneous writings.

Series II, Correspondence , is a selection of letters to Asch from many prominent Jewish writers and organizations, revealing his wide contacts and activities in both America and Europe. In the introduction to the published catalogue, Asch mentions particularly the series of letters from Stefan Zweig, written during Hitler's ascent to power (folder 176). There also are letters to and from librarians at Yale University Library, in particular Bernhard Knollenberg, Acting Librarian James T. Babb and Curator Leon Nemoy, regarding the Asch-Rabinowitz Collection (folders 173-174). Other correspondence between Asch and these three, and chiefly concerning the acquisition of the Asch-Rabinowitz Collection, can be found in the files of the University Librarian in the Manuscripts and Archives Department at Sterling Memorial Library. The series also contains a large amount of correspondence with PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) clubs throughout Europe, numerous invitations and honors from literary organizations, as well as telegrams from friends, colleagues, and business acquaintances congratulating Asch on his fiftieth birthday (folders 177-179).

Series III, Photographs , is arranged by subject and includes both studio portraits and snapshots of Asch, his family and friends. There are also photographs of Jewish art objects in Europe, and two folders of views of Palestine.

The last series,Other Papers , is arranged into Clippings, Postcards, Artwork, and Miscellaneous. The Clippings include articles, interviews, portraits of Asch and his friends; press coverage of his 50th and 60th birthday. The Postcards are mostly of Jewish antiquities in Europe and Jerusalem. The Artwork consists of a bust of Asch and sketches of Asch by Hermann Struck. The Miscellaneous section contains programs and other printed material and a corsage possibly once worn by Mrs. Asch.

Oversize contains two types of material. The first consists of selected oversize pages from various manuscripts, for which reduced or sectioned reference copies have been retained with the rest of the manuscript for purposes of continuity. The other type of material consists of items which have not been replaced by reference copies, including two major parts from Der Sheliekh (The Apostle) and Der Man fun Notseres (The Nazarene).


  • 1923 - 1949
  • Majority of material found within 1926 - 1949


Language of Materials

Materials chiefly in Yiddish, some in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Sholem Asch Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection is comprised of gifts from Sholem Asch in 1939, and from Louis M. Rabinowitz in 1944, the latter as part of the larger gift of the Asch-Rabinowitz Collection.


18.2 Linear Feet (23 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain most of Asch's major works as a novelist, including the controversial Der Man fun Notseres. The Writings series which is made up of Novels, Plays, Essays and Appeals and Other Writings, are written mostly in Yiddish, and includes reviews, playbills, programs, photographs of productions of plays. The correspondence is a selection of letters to Asch from many prominent Jewish writers and organizations. There is a series of letters from Stefan Zweig, as well as a large amount of correspondence with PEN clubs throughout Europe. Asch's concern for the Jews in Europe before and after the second World War is a constant subject in his writings and correspondence. There are also photographs of Asch and his family and friends, clippings of articles about Asch, postcards, and a bust of Asch by Morice Lipsi.

SHOLEM ASCH (1880-1957)

Sholem Asch, Yiddish novelist, dramatist, essayist, activist and short story writer, was born in Poland in 1880 and emigrated to the United States in 1910. Asch is known both for popularizing Yiddish literature internationally and for the controversy that resulted from the publication of his trilogy, Der Man fun Notseres (The Nazarene, 1939), Der Sheliekh (The Apostle, 1943), and Meri (Mary, 1949). In these works Asch explored the origins of Christianity from a Jewish perspective. Accusations from within the American Jewish community that he was preaching conversion to Christianity prompted a self-imposed exile in 1954 from the United States to Israel. Asch died in London three years later.

Bernhard Knollenberg, the Librarian of Yale University, asked Asch to donate the manuscript of Der Man fun Notseres (The Nazarene) to the Yale University Library in 1939. Asch complied, explaining in the introduction to the Catalogue of Hebrew and Yiddish Manuscripts and Books from the Library of Sholem Asch (New Haven: Yale University Library, 1945) that the gift of this manuscript to Yale precluded the placement of his manuscripts and books at any other library: "I knew full well that the rest of my manuscripts must come there, too, to the same place where the main product of my life-work is reposing. And where my own manuscripts have found a home, there too must dwell my books." Asch continues, explaining why he chose to grant Knollenberg's request:

I have sought a home for my collection not in a Jewish

institution, but in a general American one. I believe it is

the duty of American Jewry to rebuild the institutions of

Jewish learning in the new hospitable home which they have

found.... Jews must also see to it that the spirit of

Judaism, Jewish learning, should be properly and worthily

represented in the general temples of knowledge in the land.

In 1944, through the generosity of Louis M. Rabinowitz, the University Library acquired Asch's collection of manuscripts and books, designating it the Asch-Rabinowitz Collection. This immensely rich library documenting European Jewish life and culture from the 15th through the early 20th century, is well described in the catalogue quoted above, compiled by Dr. Leon Nemoy, Curator of Judaica at Yale. Asch himself provided the summation of the scholarly importance of the his own papers included in the Asch-Rabinowitz Collection, in the catalogue's introduction: "The leaves of my manuscripts represent the days of my life, for I had no other life outside of my works."

Processing Information

Portions of this collection were formerly classed as Hebrew +45 A1, Hebrew +45 B39, Hebrew +45 F23, Hebrew +45 G71b, Hebrew +45 G72, Hebrew +45 M31, Hebrew +45 M31a, Hebrew +45 S35, Hebrew +45 W91, Hebrew +45a, and Hebrew +45b.

Guide to the Sholem Asch Papers
by Diana M. Smith and Beinecke Staff
June 1995
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.