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About Holocaust Memorial Books
A phenomenon for the most part of the late 1950s, the 1960s, and the early 1970s, the yizkor books evoked by the Holocaust were edited, privately printed, and distributed (often free of charge) by committees of survivors of many hundreds of the former Jewish population centers of eastern Europe, and generally they culminate in lists of community members who did not survive the war. Over the centuries, however, traditional yizkor books (or Memorbücher, as they were called in the original Ashkenazi lands of Central Europe) had expanded beyond commemorating only the victims of persecution to record also the outstanding personages who had adorned the community in good times as well as bad. True to this spirit, the activists in the post-war yizkor book revival sought both to commemorate the dead and to recollect and celebrate, as well, the quality of life of the communities of which they had been a part. Where yizkor books contain lists of names, therefore, these are prefaced by personal memoirs and biographical sketches, and much emphasis is placed, too, on essays that describe local Jewish society in all the diversity represented by its organizations: political, intellectual, artistic, professional, and recreational, as well as philanthropic and spiritual.
Typically, these books were published in Israel or New York, or, occasionally, in Buenos Aires. The essays in these volumes may be all in Hebrew, or all in Yiddish, or some in one language and some in the other. Not infrequently, a brief English-language summary appears at the end; in a few cases, there may be substantial content in English, Hungarian, or other languages. Holocaust memorial books tend to be long, frequently running to 600-900 pages, and they are unindexed. Many of the volumes are extensively illustrated with photographs, although the images, themselves survivors of the Holocaust, have sometimes suffered damage and the quality of reproduction is not always particularly high, in line with the book production values of the time.
The alphabetical index of communities on this website lists all the towns in eastern Europe for which there are yizkor books in the Dorot Jewish Division. Each name links to the corresponding bibliographic record in the online catalog of The New York Public Library. Towns are listed according to the form authorized by the Library of Congress. Where a different form is preferred by Zachary M. Baker's Bibliography of Eastern European Memorial (Yizkor) Books, that spelling has been listed as well. Baker's bibliography appears in From a Ruined Garden: the Memorial Books of Polish Jewry, an anthology of literary passages from some sixty yizkor books, edited and translated by Jack Kugelmass and Jonathan Boyarin (second edition, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998).
An ambitious volunteer effort is under way to expand the proportion of this corpus available in English. The resulting data-rich selections in translation are posted on the JewishGen website together with much other pertinent information.
Yizkor books were published in very small quantities and at a time when permanent paper was little used. As a result, these volumes, which were meant to perpetuate the memory of a "vanished world," are often hard to find, and, in some cases, are themselves in danger of vanishing. The yizkor book holdings of the Dorot Jewish Division of The New York Public Library are the most extensive in the United States, with upwards of 90% of the titles listed in Baker's bibliography. In order to preserve and to provide universal access to these extremely important books, the Library, in partnership with the National Yiddish Book Center, has undertaken to digitize the entire collection. Digital images of the full text of virtually all of the yizkor books in the collection are freely available on the Library's website, and copies of these out-of-print titles are also obtainable as "reprints on demand" from the National Yiddish Book Center. Gaps in the Library's holdings will, it is hoped, be filled in time with digital images made from copies lent by other libraries or individuals.