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Introduction to Yizkor Books

About Holocaust Memorial Books (Yizker-bikher)

The YIVO Library holds more than 750 Yizker-bikher, or Memorial books to the hundreds of Jewish communities annihilated during the Holocaust by the Nazis and their collaborators, the largest collection in the United States. The word Yizkor in Hebrew and its Yiddish form, Yizker (literally: Remember) is the first word of a memorial prayer for the dead. These Memorial books were compiled by ad hoc committees of survivors, as a way to commemorate their families and friends who perished in the Holocaust.

The books were published privately, in limited quantities, and were intended for distribution among fellow survivors from the same town or region. These books were part of an ancient Jewish tradition to remember dead relatives on the anniversary of their death (yortsayt) as well as to mention their names during Yizkor services in the synagogue, during Yom Kippur and other major holidays. However, Holocaust Memorial Books fulfill another obligation -- Zakhor et asher asah lekha Amalek! (Deuteronomy, XXV: 17) -- the obligation to remember and not to forget the evil, which had been perpetrated on the Jewish people throughout its long history. The Nazis were seen as the modern day Amalekites, and the survivors of the death camps felt a compelling need to tell the world what had happened during the dark years of World War II.

The Yizkor books normally comprise of the following sections:

  • A complete history of the Jewish community in a given town or region;
  • Personal recollections of events and personalities before the War, often accompanied by photos;
  • Eye witness accounts of life in the ghettos, deportations and mass murders;
  • A list of all the towns people who were annihilated, intended to serve as a tombstone for people whose final burial place is unknown.

It should be noted that the first Yizkor books were issued in the late 1940s, primarily in Yiddish, by survivors who reached the USA and Canada. The 1950s and 1960s saw the appearance of the many more such books in Israel, primarily in Hebrew. By now, this body of works has become an important source material for researching Jewish life in Eastern Europe before and during the Holocaust. However, the compilation of Yizkor books has never really stopped. Some communities issued second and third editions, while other commissioned translations into English. Volunteers of the Jewish Genealogical Society are also engaged in providing translations into English on the World Wide Web.

The Yizkor Books catalog is an alphabetical list of all the towns in Central and Eastern Europe whose memorial books are owned by the YIVO Library.  The name of each city, town, village or region is listed according to the form used by the Library of Congress and/or the Columbia Gazetteer, followed by the year of publication, as well as the country where the commemorated community was located: (B) Byelorussia; (BU) Bulgaria; (C) Czech Republic; (H) Hungary, (L) Lithuania, Latvia (P) Poland; (R) Romania; (S) Slovakia.

Other resources:

JewishGen has a database of shtetlakh which indexes Yizkor books and other materials.