Shortly after the Second World War, former residents of individual towns in Eastern and Central Europe wrote and published yizkor (memorial) books as a record of and tribute to the Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. In most cases these books are in Yiddish or Hebrew. As a result, the vast amount of historical information in these books was not accessible to most English-speaking readers.
In 1994 volunteers with the New York-based, non-profit organization JewishGen began a program to reliably translate into English the text of yizkor books and post the translations on-line. Thus began JewishGen’s Yizkor Book Project (“YBP”). Today, the YBP has also posted on-line yizkor book material that has been reliably translated into Spanish, Lithuanian, and other languages
As a general rule, individual chapters of a yizkor book are translated as and when resources become available. The translations of an entire book can take more than a decade. When a book has been completely translated, JewishGen publishes an “in-print” version of the English translation, see, https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/ybip.html
Very few Jews survived the Holocaust in Lithuania and Belarus, and most of the survivors did not return to their native communities. Even though Jews often constituted a majority of the population of many towns and villages in these countries, no effort was made during the Soviet era to collect and preserve in the centuries of history of local Jewish communities. Indeed, official Soviet policy mandated that the victims of the Nazis and their collaborators be characterized only as indistinguishable “Soviet citizens.”
For several years Remembering Litvaks has been purchasing copies of “in print” English translations of yizkor books for towns in modern-day Lithuania and Belarus that once were in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – the Litvak heartland – and distributing these books to relevant state and local libraries and museums. It has been encouraging to see that the translations, which were done primarily for Jewish historians and genealogists, have attracted the interest of non-Jewish historians in Lithuania and Belarus who seek to fill in the informational gaps in local history that were left in the wake of the Holocaust and the Soviet regime.
In the summer of 2018, the editors of the YBP notified Remembering Litvaks that JewishGen would support this initiative by donating copies of “in-print” yizkor books to institutions in Lithuania, Belarus, and Latvia designated by the Remembering Litvaks. In 2019, 29 books will be donated, including 12 that will be presented to the Belarus National Library in Minsk.