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How to Document Victims and Locate Survivors of the Holocaust

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Almost all yizkor books are written in Hebrew and Yiddish. This represents a major challenge to those unversed in these languages, because both the language and the alphabet are unfamiliar. Fortunately, this is not as difficult an obstacle as one might think. The reader is not attempting to read the book for meaning, but rather is looking for something very specific: people's names. Go to the table of contents of a yizkor book. There you find a sequence of words written in Hebrew and Yiddish, aligned at the left margin, and another sequence of words, aligned at the right margin. At the left margin are listed the authors and at the right margin are the titles of the articles. This may seem backwards, but Hebrew and Yiddish are written right to left. Leaf through the book and look at the captions of pictures. A picture of a single person may have two or three words below the picture-- the person's name. The caption of a group of ten persons may have many sets of two or three words separated by commas--the names of the persons in the picture. The back of the book consists of pages in table form. It is observed that the table is in sections where the first letter of the first word of each section is identical. This is the necrology listed in alphabetical order by last name.

How to Use a Yizkor Book
How do you find information about specific individuals when you cannot read or do not understand Hebrew or Yiddish? Again, the reader has an advantage that the search is for people's names only. For example, the name Mokotowski, whether it is in Hebrew, Cyrillic, Greek or the Roman alphabet, is written phonetically as mukutuvski. To search for a particular name, ask someone knowledgeable in the languages to write in Hebrew and Yiddish its spelling in printed form. Look through the list of authors in the table of contents for the pattern of letters. Read the titles of articles. Scan the captions of pictures of individuals. Check the necrology for names of members of the family. If the name is found, make a copy of the page or the entire associated article and arrange to have it translated. Where do you find someone knowledgeable in Hebrew or Yiddish? Your closest synagogue can help you find someone.

Yizkor books are a possible link to the present--the articles were written by persons who may still be alive. If not, their children may be alive and able to provide information about your family. If a list of survivors is printed in the book or an address of the society that published the book is given, consider writing to them. First note the copyright year of the publication. If it is decades ago, there is less likelihood that the person is alive or lives currently at the address given. Telephone books of other countries are often available at major libraries in your area, or you can contact the nearest consulate or embassy for the country of interest. Consulates and embassies have on hand telephone books of the major cities in their country.

Where to Find Yizkor Books
The largest collections of yizkor books are held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the UCLA Library in Los Angeles and the Jewish Public Library in Montreal. Substantial collections exist in large public and university libraries throughout the world, as well as in Holocaust research centers. Libraries known to have large collections of yizkor books are listed in Appendix D.

It is extremely difficult to purchase yizkor books. All but the most recently published are out of print, and it is unusual for one to come on the market--usually a Holocaust survivor has died and the family has given the books to a book wholesaler. Check with dealers in used Jewish books. The National Yiddish Book Center states they do not usually sell yizkor books to the general public but reserve their acquisitions for libraries. Two companies have developed a reputation as sellers of yizkor books; both are located in Israel--both publish catalogs: J. Robinson & Co. Booksellers; 26 Nachlat Benjamin Street; Tel Aviv. Also, Chaim Dzialowski; P.O. Box 6413; 91063 Jerusalem.

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