The UCLA Research Library’s holdings include over 500 Yizker-bikher, or Memorial books to the hundreds of Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust by the Nazis and their collaborators, the largest collection on the West Coast. 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 Jewish holidays.
The Yizkor books normally include the following sections:
- A complete history of the Jewish community in a given town or region, before, during and after the Holocaust
- Personal recollections of events and personalities before World War II, often accompanied by photos;
- Eyewitness accounts of life in the ghettos, deportations and mass murders;
- A list of all the residents who died during the Holocaust
The first Yizkor books were published in the late 1940s, primarily in Yiddish, and primarily 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. Other Yizkor books were published in South Africa, Argentina, and Australia. These works have become an important resource 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.