Yizkor books open window on lost world at PSU
article created on: 2011-09-15T00:00:00
A new exhibit at Portland State University’s Branford P. Millar Library tells the stories of Eastern European Jews and their communities destroyed in the Holocaust.
“Of Place and Memory: The Yizkor Book as a Window into a World Destroyed” will be on view in the Millar Library (1875 SW Park Ave.) from Sept. 16 to Dec. 16, and is the result of a first-time collaboration between the PSU Library and the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies.
The University Library’s Special Collections will display a grouping of Yizkor books that were assembled by survivors from all over Eastern Europe to document their lives, those of their lost family members and friends and their obliterated shtetls.
Also part of the exhibit is the very rare “Survivor’s Haggadah,” one of only three extant copies in the United States. The Haggadah contains the text and prayers that accompany the annual Passover meal retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
“Of Place and Memory” is curated by Natan M. Meir, the Lorry I. Lokey Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies, with assistance from Cristine Paschild, assistant professor, Portland State University Library, Head of Special Collections and University Archivist.
“Of Place and Memory” showcases the University Library’s Special Collections, as well as the Judaic Studies Program’s scholarship and continued growth. To facilitate that growth, philanthropist Lorry I. Lokey recently created the Lokey Library Fund—currently operating under a matching-challenge grant up to $150,000—to bolster the University Library’s Jewish and Israel Studies collections.
Part memoir, part family tree, part family photo album, Yizkor books tell not only of a people and culture destroyed, but also of a people’s renewal and post-1945 regeneration that followed in Israel and the Diaspora.
The books, usually composed in Hebrew, Yiddish, or a combination of the two languages, include black-and-white maps hand-drawn from survivors’ memories, photos of family members and stories of community activities. Each book is a rare and powerful experience into the collective memory of a world that no longer exists.
The Musaf l’Haggadah shel Pesah, or “Survivor’s Haggadah,” was written in 1945 for the first Passover after the liberation of its writers and artists from concentration camps. Yosef Dov Sheinzon, a native of Kovno and survivor of Dachau, wrote the delicate, thin volume’s Hebrew and Yiddish text.
Hungarian artist Miklós Adler created the haunting woodcuts, reminiscent of phantasmagoric images such as in “The Scream” by Edvard Munch.
“For researchers, Yizkor books are a precious resource, providing a glimpse of everyday life in the shtetls that were home to so many Eastern European Jews before the Holocaust,” Meir said.
“Though many of the books have a strongly nostalgic strain, their collage-like quality makes them a genre of their own, and they are fascinating both in and of themselves as well as because of the vanished world that they memorialize.”
The Millar Library’s Special Collections is the steward of 136 Yizkor books—the largest collection of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. Special Collections’ holdings include a volume dating back to 1929, published in Pinsk, well prior to World War II, as well as unique copies not yet included in the recent digitization project undertaken by the New York Public Library’s Dorot Jewish Division.
“Yizkor books are especially compelling now, as the generation that witnessed the Holocaust is quickly fading,” Paschild, Special Collections head and university archivist, said.
“The unique volumes provide a very personal history of some of the millions who perished and the genocide that destroyed an entire way of life.”