The University of Vilnius, one of the oldest and most famous establishments ofhigher education in Eastern and Central Europe, was founded in 1579. Functioning for a long time as the only school of higher learning in Lithuania, it was a preserver of cultural and scientific traditions, and has played a significant part in the culture life not only of Lithuania, but the neighboring countries as well. During more than four centuries of its existence, the University os Vilnius has seen periods of growth and decline, revival, and closure. The University is a unique witness to the history of the Lithuanian state.
The Vilnius Yiddish Institute, housed in Vilnius University's history department, is a living testament to Vilnius's Yiddish heritage. In fact, the worl'd first Yiddish academic institute was formed in this very city. The Institute states it "harbors no illusions about reconstruction prewar Jewish life in Lithuania" but concentrates on keeping the Yiddish literature and traditions alive by complementing the unique work of other world-centers. The University has a substantial Judaica collection and the Institute is embarking on a vast documentation program of a pre-war Jewish life in the region as well as cultural projects.