Josifas Shapiro (born 1921 in Kaunas) has a museum within Vilnius's Jewish State Museum of Lithuania where his own collection of "ex libris" bookplates is housed. It is said to be one of the largest private collections in the world, with close to 120,000 examples; "10,000 more," Josifas proudly notes, "than are in the collection of the British Museum in London." Included in his collection are 4,000 entries with Jewish themes, some from as early as 1800.

At one time, when Mr. Shapiro could afford the postage, he had over 300 correspondents throughout the world with whom he traded bookplates. In addition to his collection, he also collects stamps, coins, sea shells, ceramic vases, and amber; however, his bookplate collection is his real pride and joy.

Shapiro fought with the 16th Division of the Soviet army - the Lithuanian Division. Josifas said, from the first to the last day of the war "as long as my heart beat and my hand could hold a gun I had to continue to fight against fascism. (Bis da Herz Klopft und die Hand halten die gewahr, mus ich kampfen gegen facisimus.) He was wounded four times and has scars on his leg from the shrapnel shells to prove it.

He was at the battle of Stalingrad and was present during the campaigns which liberated the Ukraine and Poland and Marienbad. When the war was over, he returned to Vilnius where he worked many years as an engineer with a printing firm. On a pension for the past 10 years, his main interest has been the preservation and presentation of his bookplate collection. Josifas waits each day for visitors with whom he can share his collection and his vast knowledge of Jewish Lithuanian lore.

Anyone interested in trading bookplates or stamps with Josifas should write him: c/o The Jewish State, Museum of Lithuania, Pamenkainio 12, Vilnius, Lithuania.

Photos © 1998 Laurence Salzmann

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