The David Simonsen Archives: digitizing the letters

[For access to the digitized letters, click here]

The generous grant by Harry and Annette Rosenberg, whose first result is the digitization of The David Simonsen Manuscripts, will also enable The Royal Library to begin the digitization of the main part of The David Simonsen Archives, namely his extensive correspondence. Already in 2004, a correspondence list, naming close to 5.000 correspondents, was published (with an update in 2006), and over these five years app. 60 scholars, domestic and from abroad, have been in touch, either in order to study the original letters, or to obtain physical or digital copies.

The digitization will make it possible to see the letters, and browse them on screen. The name of the correspondent, date, language(s) etc. will be presented as well, together with any references to other parts of the archives. The last information is important, because many correspondents appear in the archives as both individuals and as representatives of different organisations.

Some examples from the archives - to see the letters, click on the date!
(And click on the page, to enlarge and/or turn it upside down...)

Two letters from David Simonsen to Georg Brandes, conveying a wish for Brandes to support the Romanian Jews (1916-04-12 and 1916-04-16; unfortunately, the interceding letter from Brandes seems not to have been preserved). All in all, twenty letters to/from the Brandes brothers have been identified, eleven to/from Georg Brandes and nine to/from Edvard Brandes. But the titulature in this period makes the distribution a bit tricky, as Simonsen normally addresses both of them “Dear Mr. Professor Brandes ...”

Shmuel Yosef (Shai) Agnon, the 1966 Nobel Prize for Literature laureate, was, together with David Simonsen, active in the scholarly publishing society Mekize nirdamim. Two letters are shown here (from Simonsen to Agnon, 1922-02-21, and from Agnon to Simonsen, 1922-03-22, the second one being an example of Agnon’s almost micrographic Hebrew hand. This bi-lingual exchange of letters is quite typical. Even Danes, writing in Danish, might receive answers in German, if no Danish-speaking secretarial assistance was at hand during Simonsen’s almost yearly recreational visits to Central European spa resorts.

This was, however, not something that Emma Gad, the Danish ‘Miss Manners’ of her time, seems to have experienced. But should one - oh, horror! – happen to visit a Rabbi at an inappropriate moment - her letter (1900-10-16) is an excellent example of how to apologize.

YIVO (יידישער וויסנשאפטלעכער אינסטיטוט; Yidisher visenshaftlekher organisatsie) was founded in 1925 in Vilna (Vilnius), a city, which for the first four decades of the 20th century without any doubt could be appointed one of the main hubs of Eastern European Jewish cultural life. Today, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (New York) is the foremost scientific centre for the study of Yiddish and Yiddish culture. Of the two letters, the letter in Yiddish contains an invitation to support the Institute's building plans (1925-05-30). As can be seen from the second letter (1931-04-12, David Simonsen did indeed make substantial contributions and the letter-head reveals that he held an honorary position, together with a number of other notabilities, known also outside the circles of the scientific study of Yiddish.

One of these other members will supply the last example. Unfortunately, the letter, to which Albert Einstein replies (1920-06-24) seems not to have been preserved. It isn’t clear, how they knew (of) one another, but Chaim Weizmann, the chemist who became the first president of the State of Israel, or the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, may have been ‘the missing link’.

The online facsimile publication of David Simonsen’s extensive correspondence is a great challenge. Since it, in some ways, will function as a ‘laboratory’, this project will also provide The Royal Library with many useful experiences, and will as a result function as a foundation for other similar projects in the future.