The Library holds 136 Yizkor books, the oldest (and only pre-Holocaust Yizkor book) is from Pinsk, published in 1929. The rest of the collection chronicles life before, during, and after the Holocaust. These Yizkor books support the research and curriculum of the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies, the students and faculty of Portland State, as well as those at other institutions. While they were not written as scholarly works, they provide a unique view into a world that has almost completely disappeared.
Those Yizkor books that are written in English provide undergraduates with a personal view of life before, during , and after the Holocaust. The narratives, photos, and maps help personalize Eastern European Jewish life and culture and also the brutality of the Holocaust. For researchers, Yizkor books provide not only a view of life before and during the Holocaust, but the books themselves are evidence of the process of renewal and regeneration that followed through Landsmanschaften and other organizations. Some of the books have a strongly nostalgic strain, while others provide an unvarnished portrait of life in Eastern European shtetlech and cities. The historiography of Eastern European Jews has often focussed on the wealthy and famous, to some extent because of the lack of remaining data on poorer Jews, who often lived hidden at the margins of society. Yizkor books can provide a glimpse into this world and a better understanding of the demographics and migrations of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe.
Finally, as the generation of those who witnessed the Holocaust fades, Yizkor books continue to provide a very personal history of those who were killed, and the genocide that destroyed an entire way of life.
(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)