Archive, Descriptive Finding Aid


Guide to the Papers of Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)

Processed by Maya Benton, Susan Carlson, and Vishniac Archive Staff.

Prepared by Rachel Wittmann.

Repository: International Center of Photography
Creator:  Vishniac, Roman (1897-1990)
TitlePapers of Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)

Dates: 1903-2008 (inclusive)    
Bulk Dates1935-1994

Quantity/Volume7.9 Linear Feet

Summary (Abstract): 

This collection contains mostly papers accrued during the life of photographer Roman Vishniac (1897-1990). Materials include personal and professional correspondence, newspaper clippings, book manuscripts, notebooks, and exhibition announcements. The papers have been organized into sections relating his personal life, professional photography career, ICP related documents and posthumous collections. Personal materials include autobiographical manuscripts, notebooks, address books, correspondence, official documents and telegrams. The bulk of the papers pertain to Roman Vishniac’s career as a photographer which spans two major categories: photo documentation of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe prior to the World War II and scientific photomicroscopy. Documents for these two divisions consist of mostly correspondence regarding publishing, exhibitions, academic instruction, photograph requests, and awards. Also included are newspaper clippings, manuscripts, and notebooks.

Languages: Dutch, English, German, French, Hebrew, Korean, Polish, and Russian.

Scope and Content Note:

The Roman Vishniac Papers measure approximately 7.9 linear feet and date from 1903 to 2008, with the bulk of the material dating from 1939 to 1994. The collection documents the life, work, and interests of Roman Vishniac (1897-1990). Roman Vishniac is most well-known for his work as a photographer, but he was also an active educator, scholar, author, scientist, and humanitarian. Posthumous materials in the Roman Vishniac Papers (added after Roman’s death on January, 22, 1990) include correspondence and newspaper clippings contributed by Roman Vishniac’s daughter, Mara Vishniac Kohn.   

The papers collection was accrued mostly during Roman Vishniac’s life while living in Russia (1897-1918), Germany (1918-1939), France (1939-1940), and America (1940-1990). While English is the predominate language of the Vishniac papers, documents prior to 1945 are often in German and Russian. Some of these documents have correlating English translations. 

The Vishniac Papers collection is divided into five main series sections to provide researchers easier access to relevant materials. Series I. Personal Materials, 1903-1999 includes the correspondence, official documents, passports, notebooks, address books and autobiographical manuscripts. The earliest documents of the collection are personal correspondence from Roman’s life in Russia consisting of handwritten letters and postcards. Correspondence to and from family members, leading up to and during World War II provides insights to the tensions and logistics faced by the Vishniac family to emigrate from Europe. Vishniac collected art and rare books, resulting in correspondence with various dealers and acquisitions. 

The second and third series represent the bulk of the Roman Vishniac Papers collection. Vishniac had two major focus areas within his photographic work, photo documentation of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe just before WWII and photomicroscopy of biological subject matter. These two series has an extensive subseries to organize materials further. Series II. Social Documentary Photography – Judaica, 1938-2005 includes documents related to Vishniac’s involvement as a photojournalist and documentarian of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe shortly before the holocaust significantly devastated these communities and their inhabitants. Vishniac published several books and was featured in numerous articles for his photographic contributions to Jewish history. Related to his books, A Vanished World and To Give Them Light, there is correspondence with publishers along with hand written draft manuscripts and captions. Vishniac was often collaborating with Israel based organizations, educational institutions, and museums. Due to the humanitarian contribution of photographing Jewish communities prior to their eradication in Europe, there is significant correspondence from the public expressing admiration and appreciation for Vishniac’s work. There is correspondence from the involvement with Judaic religious leaders and organizations as well as manuscripts and notes on Judaism. Vishniac gave many lectures and instructed courses, including Chevron Professor of Creativity at the Pratt Institute in New York City. In appreciation of Vishniac’s instruction, many lecture attendees and former students corresponded to express gratitude. A large collection of newspaper and magazine clippings is contained in the Papers, (including a posthumous collection) which either discuss Roman Vishniac or include his images. 

The third series, Series III. Photomicroscopy – Science, 1935-1986, includes similar range of documents as aforementioned for Series II but pertaining to Roman Vishniac’s innovation in the field of photomicroscopy and the sciences. 

Roman Vishniac’s association with the International Center of Photography (ICP) began in the late 1960s. Materials documenting this relationship have been separated due to relevancy for the home institution (ICP) and acquisition of the Roman Vishniac archive. This includes correspondence between Roman Vishniac and Cornell Capa regarding lectures, workshops and exhibits at ICP. Posthumously, Mara Vishniac Kohn’s correspondence to arrange for the transfer of Roman’s archive to ICP is also included.  


The Papers of Roman Vishniac were reorganized once donated to the ICP archive. Organization is topical, primarily based on Vishniac’s two major photographic areas of work while separating personal, ICP related, and posthumously collected materials. This finding aid provides a directory to physical location of materials based on the subject arrangement. The five major subject sections represent the series of the Papers collection, with the bulk of the collection is within Series II. Social Documentary Photography – Judaica, 1938-2005 and Series III. Photomicroscopy – Science, 1935-1986. Series II and III have extensive subseries to further organize materials within the respective areas of Vishniac’s photographic work. 


Series I: Personal Materials, 1903-1999

Series II. Social Documentary Photography – Judaica, 1938-2005 

Subseries 1: Publishing Correspondence, 1950-1989

Subseries 2: General Correspondence, 1938-1988

Subseries 3: Awards and Honors, 1961-1994

Subseries 4: Published Press, 1941-2005 

Subseries 5: Vanished World Manuscript Drafts, Undated, 1939

Subseries 6: Judaica Notes and Manuscripts, Undated, 1979

Subseries 7: Exhibitions, 1943-2008

Subseries 8: Film Programs, 1940-1982

Subseries 9: Erwin Leiser, 1978-1983

Subseries 10: Lecture Correspondence and Materials, 1947-1986

Series III. Photomicroscopy – Science, 1935-1986

Subseries 1: Film Programs, 1954-1982

Subseries 2: Science Correspondence and Articles, 1935-1984 

Subseries 3: Professional Correspondence - Lectures, Appreciation, and Photo Requests, 1940-1986

Subseries 4: Science and Photomicroscopy Related Correspondence, 1955-1984

Subseries 5. Published Press Clippings, 1941-1983

Subseries 6. Publishing Correspondence, 1948-1979

Subseries 7. Photographic and Biology Notes, 1950-1969

Series IV. International Center of Photography, 1968-1999 

Series V. Posthumous Correspondence, 1984-2007

Filing Schema:

The Papers of Roman Vishniac are mostly contained in a filing cabinet at the ICP Roman Vishniac Archive. The container list for each series and subseries will indicate drawer (D1, D2, or D3) followed by hanging folder (D1-F1, D1-F2, etc.) and an individual folder number (D1-F1-1, D1-F1-2, D1, F1-3, etc.). Exceptions include documents separated in archival boxes, which are identified, by box number and a subordinate folder number.   


Open to researchers. 
There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact: [email protected].

Access Points:

Subject Names:

Cornell, Capa

Ernst Vishniac, Edith

Bagg Vishniac, Leah (Luta)

Kinkead, Eugene, 1906-1992

Kohn Vishniac, Mara 

Kollek, Teddy, 1911-2007

Leiser, Erwin

Vishniac, Roman, 1897-1990

Vishniac, Wolf

Subject Organizations:

International Center of Photography

B'nai B'rith International

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

Pratt Institute

Rhode Island School of Design

New Yorker (New York, N.Y. : 1925)

Israel Museum (Jerusalem)

Subject Topics:

Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)








World War II

World War, 1939-1945



Subject Places:

Berlin – Germany -- Europe

Carpathian Mountains – Europe 

Cracow – Poland -- Europe

France -- Europe

Germany -- Europe

Łódź -- Poland -- Europe

Poland -- Europe

Portugal --- Europe

Russia -- Europe

United States – North America

Document Types:


Address Books

Clippings (newspaper)



Leaflets (printed works)

Magazines (periodicals)







Official Documents

Writings (document genre)

Series Descriptions / Container Listing:

Series I. Personal Materials, 1903-1999 

This series is in English, German and Russian.

Size: 1.1 linear feet.



 Scope and Content:

The materials in this series are from Roman’s personal life and familial relations, separate from his career as a photographer and involvement in academia. This series includes correspondence with family and friends, personal documentation including passports, address books, legal and financial paperwork, personal art collection correspondence and notebooks, and an autobiographical manuscript. Several documents, including an address book and dairy, were created by Roman Vishniac’s second wife Edith Ernst Vishniac. 


Box 6 includes correspondence from Roman Vishniac to his family while being detained at the internment Camp du Ruchard in France in 1939. These letters have been written in German and have English translations. Correspondences written in Russian 1941-1945 do not have translations available. The oldest documents (1903-1920) within the Papers collection are in this series (Drawer 1, Folder 18), from Roman Vishniac’s youth in Russia. 

Series II. Social Documentary Photography – Judaica, 1938-2005

This series is in Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, and Russian.

4.6 linear feet.


Topical for all subseries.

Scope and Content:

Papers related to Roman Vishniac’s photographic work of the social documentation of the Jews in Eastern Europe prior to World War II represent the largest section of the Papers collection. Due to the size of this series, it has been divided into 10 subseries. In relation to Vishniac’s published books (A Vanished World and To Give Them Light), contained in this series is correspondence with publishers, draft manuscripts and captions along with notes made on Judaism and Eastern Europe. Photocopies of the awards, including two city proclamations of “Roman Vishniac Day” are held here. There is an extensive clippings collection of articles on Roman Vishniac, extending posthumously. Also included are correspondence and announcements of Vishniac exhibitions and moving film productions. An active educator, there is much correspondence and letters expressing appreciation regarding his lectures.

Subseries 1: Publishing Correspondence,1950-1989

This subseries is in English, French, and German.

0.3 linear feet

This series contains correspondence with publishing agencies regarding the publication of books and articles.

Subseries 2: General Correspondence, 1938-1988

This subseries is in Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, and Russian.

0.8 linear feet

Subseries 2 includes handwritten and typed correspondence on subjects that expand an array of categories, including academia, lectures, publishing, Israeli institutions, public interest, and photo requests. Drawer 1, Folder 15 includes correspondence with institutions based in Israel, including Museum Israel and correspondence with Teddy Kollek, the then Mayor of Jerusalem.

Subseries 3: Awards and Honors, 1961-1994

This subseries is in English, German, and Korean.

0.1 linear feet

Subseries 3 contains various photocopies and photographs of awards, diplomas, and correlating correspondence. Notably, a Proclamation from the Office of the President, Borough of Brooklyn, City of New York, announcing March 4, 1985 as Roman Vishniac Day and a diploma from the Rhode Island College, of Doctor of Humane Letters, awarded in 1984.

Subseries 4: Published Press, 1941-2005

This subseries is in English and German

0.5 linear feet

Subseries 4 contains newspaper and magazine clippings and photocopies of articles on Roman Vishniac.

Subseries 5: A Vanished World Manuscript Drafts, Undated, 1939

This subseries is in English and German

0.9 linear feet

Subseries 5 includes mostly handwritten drafts and captions for Roman Vishniac’s book, A Vanished World.

Subseries 6: Judaica Notes and Manuscripts, Undated, 1979

This subseries is in English and German.

1.2 linear feet

Subseries 6 contains handwritten manuscripts in German on Judaism and European Jews, possibly for a monograph.

Subseries 7: Exhibitions, 1943-2008

This subseries is in English and German.

0.2 linear feet

Subseries 7 contains some correspondence but mostly newsletters, and announcements exhibitions of Roman Vishniac’s photography of the Jews in Eastern Europe.

Subseries 8: Film Programs, 1940-1982


0.3 linear feet

Subseries 8 includes correspondence relating to the production of film programs, including a television show for the ABC network. Folder D1, F21 includes a photograph of Jerusalem Mayor, Teddy Kollek.

Subseries 9: Erwin Leiser, 1978-1983

English and German.

0.3 linear feet

Subseries 9 contains correspondence, mostly in German, with journalist and film producer, Erwin Leiser.

Subseries 10: Lecture Correspondence and Materials, 1947-1986

This subseries is in English.

0.2 linear feet

Subseries 10 includes correspondence, notes, and student essays relating to courses and lectures Roman Vishniac instructed. 

Series III. Photomicroscopy – Science, 1935-1986

This series in English, French, and German.  

2.0 linear feet


Topical for all subseries.

Scope and Content:

Series III contains materials relating to the other major focus of Roman Vishniac’s photographic career, photomicroscopy. Roman Vishniac was originally fascinated with the camera and microscope as a young man in Russia. He was avidly involved in the sciences and the molecular imagery. This series has been divided into 7 subseries to organize materials.

Series IV. International Center of Photography, 1968-1999

This series is in English.

0.2 linear feet

Scope and Content:

Series IV contains correspondence and announcements for exhibitions and lectures including Roman Vishniac at the International Center of Photography. Correspondence between Roman Vishniac and ICP founder Cornell Capa from ranging 1968 to 1986. Also included is correspondence with Mara Vishniac Kohn and Cornell Capa regarding posthumous matters with the Roman Vishniac archive and ICP.

Series V. Posthumous Correspondence, 1984-2007

This series is in English.

0.2 linear feet

Scope and Content:

Series V includes correspondences addressed to Mara Vishniac Kohn regarding Roman Vishniac. Folder F21-8 contains condolences of Roman Vishniac’s death from family, friends and the public.