RECOMMENDATION 1291 (1996)
on Yiddish culture
The Assembly is concerned at the critical situation of the Yiddish language and
culture in Europe. It has barely survived the Holocaust of the second world war and
victimisation by communist totalitarianism.
Yiddish was once a cross-national culture in Europe, a mediator for intellectual
advance and also a component of local national cultures. Yiddish artists, novelists, poets
and dramatists made a rich contribution to the development of modern European art and
literature, especially in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But too few have
survived to continue this cultural tradition.
From over 8 million Yiddish speakers in Europe in 1939 there are now only about 2
million worldwide. The majority of these are old people. As a minority language Yiddish is
The extent of this problem has been brought into the open with the enlargement of
cultural co-operation to the countries of central Europe, the Yiddish homeland. Though it
has been discussed in Israel and in Unesco, the first occasion for the Council of Europe
to consider the subject was at the colloquy held in Vilnius in May 1995 by the Assembly's
Committee on Culture and Education.
In the holding of this colloquy and in the subsequent report, the Assembly welcomes
the opportunity it has had to provide a forum for the Yiddish academic network in Europe.
It is a matter of regret that at present the main centres for Yiddish culture are
outside Europe: in Israel and the United States of America. For historical and cultural
reasons, Europe should take steps to encourage and develop within Europe centres for
Yiddish culture, research and language.
The fate of the Yiddish language and culture is analogous to that of many lost or
disappearing cultures in Europe. However, stability in Europe depends on acceptance of a
pluralistic system of cultural values.
The Assembly recalls the texts that it has adopted on related issues and in
particular Recommendation 928 (1981) on the educational and cultural problems of minority
languages and dialects in Europe, Resolution 885 (1987) on the Jewish contribution to
European culture and Recommendation 1275 (1995) on the fight against racism, xenophobia,
anti-Semitism and intolerance.
The Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:
ask member states to give consideration to the returning of Yiddish cultural property
to Jewish Yiddish academic institutions from which it was taken during the second world
war or to give to these institutions adequate compensation for the furtherance of Yiddish
because of the closeness of Yiddish to German, invite German-language member states
to act as trustees for the Yiddish language, for example by the creation of university
chairs in the subject and by the dissemination to Europe in general of the finest products
of Yiddish culture by means of translations, anthologies, courses, exhibitions, or
establish scholarships for artists and writers who are descendants of Yiddish
minority groups throughout Europe, so that they may be able to work purposefully and
creatively in the field of Yiddish language and culture;
ask the Council for Cultural Co-operation to establish a mechanism for co-ordinating
the activities of Yiddish academic centres throughout Europe and to convene in the near
future a conference on this subject, if possible involving the European Union (Commission
invite Ministries of Culture of member states to help Jewish and non-Jewish cultural
institutions concerned with the Yiddish cultural heritage to reconstruct in publications
and ethnographic and art exhibitions, in audiovisual records, etc., the full picture of
the pre-Holocaust Yiddish cultural landscape that is today scattered throughout Europe;
invite Ministries of Education of member states to include the history of European
Jewish culture in manuals on European history;
set up under the auspices of the Council of Europe, a "laboratory for
dispersed ethnic minorities" with a mandate, inter alia:
to promote the survival of minority cultures or their memory;
to carry out surveys of persons still speaking minority languages;
to record, collect and preserve their monuments and evidence of their language and
to publish basic documents (for example the unfinished lexicon of the Yiddish
to promote legislation to protect minority cultures against discrimination or
commission, for the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war, and in
order to commemorate the virtual annihilation of the Yiddish civilisation in Europe, a
suitable monument to Yiddish culture to be set up in the Palais de l'Europe in Strasbourg;
seek also the co-operation and partnership of interested organisations, trusts and
other bodies in the private sector to carry out these recommendations.
 Text adopted by the Standing Committee, acting on behalf of the
Assembly, on 20 March 1996.
See Doc. 7489, report of the Committee on Culture and Education, rapporteur: Mr