The Term "Yizkor" means "to remember" and comes from traditional communal mourning and remembrance services, where the names of the deceased are read aloud four times a year, on Yom Kippur, Shmini Atzeret, during Passover, and on Shavuot. The phrase used is "Yizkor Elohim…." or "May God remember….". Yizkor books derive from this tradition, and serve as the communal memory of individuals and communities that have perished as the result of persecution.
The first Yizkor book, or in Yiddish "Memorbuch", was produced in 1296 in Nuremberg by Isaac ben Samuel of Meiningen, to commemorate the victims of the previous two centuries of persecution since the First Crusade in 1095. More Yizkor books were produced in Europe throughout the Middle Ages in the wake of anti-Semitic violence. After the Holocaust of 1933-1945, when six million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, the genre re-emerged to commemorate the lives and communities lost.
Most Yizkor books commemorate a community, though some encompass several communities, a region, or a country. They generally include sections on life before the Holocaust, the Holocaust itself, and the period of regeneration and renewal that followed, both in Israel and throughout the Diaspora. Many include maps, photos, the artwork of adults and children, and narratives of individuals. Perhaps most importantly, they include the names of the dead and information about them. Most Yizkor books were published by Landsmanschaften, or community groups, made up of the survivors of a community or region. Some were published under the auspices or organizations such as Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. While most Yizkor books are in Hebrew and Yiddish, some are in English or have English sections. Volunteers of the Jewish Genealogical Society are also engaged in providing translations into English on their website.
Yizkor books are not considered to include other memoirs or histories of the Holocaust. For futher information on Holocaust research, see the library's Judaic Studies research guide.
(Photo from The Kalish Book. 1968. Tel-Aviv: The Society of Former Residents of Kalish and the Vicinity in Israel and U.S.A. Housed in Portland State Library Special Collections at call number: DS135 .P62 K293)
Sources for this page:
Dorot Division, New Your Public Library, Yizkor (Holocaust memorial Books), http://legacy.www.nypl.org/research/chss/jws/yizkorbooks_intro.cfm, accessed 3/29/2011
Institute for Jewish Research YIVO, Introduction to Yizkor Books, http://www.yivoinstitute.org/index.php?tid=46&aid=254, accessed 3/29/2011
Jones, Faith, and Gretta Siegel. 2006. Yizkor Books as Holocaust Grey Literature. Publishing Research Quarterly 22, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 52-62.