With the upcoming anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I thought it would be appropriate to write about Yizkor Books. Based in New York, I have the advantage of being able to visit many libraries and find Yizkor Books that are not always available elsewhere. I have found that many of the Jewish libraries have a good collection of these memorial books. There is the YIVO Library and the library at the Jewish Theological Seminary. It might surprise people that one of the largest collections of Yizkor Books is in The New York Public Library, located at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
The Dorot Jewish Division of The New York Public Library is one of the great collections of Judaica in the world and the most accessible for both scholarly and personal use. The Yizkor Book collection consists of over 750 books that cover small and large villages, towns and cities affected by the Holocaust. These books are non-circulating (cannot be removed from the library) but can be viewed in the spacious reading room of the Dorot Jewish Division, located on the first floor of the library. The very competent and knowledgeable staff is always on hand to lend assistance when needed.
The Dorot Jewish Division collection of Yizkor Books gives scholars and lay people around the world an advantage. You can view 650 of the books without even going to the library. In an ongoing project they have digitized 650 of the books from their collection and put them on the Internet site. These scans are basically pictures of every page in the books as they are in the library.
Most of the books are in Yiddish and Hebrew with only a few pages, if any, in English (there are no translations on this site). There is a list of directions to guide the user through the process of using the website. Volumes currently available in hard copy only are indicated by an asterisk on the alphabetical list of all the books.
The Yizkor Book collection is only part of the vast holdings of the Dorot Jewish Division at the New York Public Library.
The Dorot Jewish Division was established as a distinct collection with funding contributed by Jacob Schiff in 1897, just two years after the formation of The New York Public Library. Abraham S. Freidus, cataloger of the Astor Library’s rich collection of Judaica, was appointed the Division’s first chief and presided over its rapid growth for 25 years. The Library’s foundation for collections on Jewish subjects in Hebrew and other languages was provided by holdings from the Astor and Lenox libraries.
This existing nucleus was quickly expanded by the acquisition of the private libraries of Leon Mandelstamm, Meyer Lehren, and Isaac Meyer, as well as some holdings of the Aguilar Free Library, a small public library system operated by a group of philanthropic Jews in the nineteenth century that merged with The New York Public Library in 1903. By the early 1900’s the Dorot Jewish Division already rivaled the oldest and best Jewish libraries in Europe.
Today about 10,000 people each year use the non-circulating material available in the Dorot Jewish Division’s reading room. The readers include authors, college students, and professors of history, literature, and many other subjects. Elderly immigrants staying in touch with their culture and young Jews investigating their roots also find the collection a unique resource.
The website is nypl.org/research/chss/jws.yizkorbookonline.cfm.