Michael Schoeman, of New York, really hit the Genealogical Jackpot when he opened the Yizkor Book for the Polish town of Biala Rawska, from which his grandfather emigrated in 1905. There, he found a photo that he recognized from his childhood home and was excited to discover that it accompanied an article written in Yiddish by his grandfather, Joseph Meyer Weber (1883-1958), describing his hometown. Michael contacted me to arrange a translation of the Yizkor Book article into English.
I love doing Yizkor book translations as I find it quite thrilling to make a contribution to these incredible historical records. The Yizkor Books were compiled in the ’50s and ’60s, when thousands of Holocaust survivors organized themselves into small societies dedicated to documenting the history of destroyed European Jewish communities. These individuals contributed written accounts and photographs to create volumes of “memorial books” to perpetuate the memory of their towns and the people who lived there. This is even more astonishing when we consider that members of each town’s group were scattered across the world and that communications in those days were almost exclusively by snail mail, and that publication costs were high. As primary historical documents of huge significance, the Yizkor books are a gift for all generations from the those battered yet wise survivors, and a unique enterprise of the “People of the Book.”
The Yizkor books are primarily written in Yiddish and Hebrew, and I consider it a privilege to translate these volumes into English so that more people can benefit from them. Yiddish-Translation.com is regularly approached by people who want relevant chapters from Yizkor books translated in order to help them with their research. You can find scans of the original Yizkor Books on the New York Public Library website. JewishGen has a wonderful project to translate the tables of contents, which is a good place to start if you would like a general idea of what a particular Yizkor book might offer you. JewishGen encourages individuals and groups to privately organize the translation of chapters that interest them, because the volume of material is just too vast to rely on their own pool of volunteers. Michael Schoeman plans to contribute his translation to JewishGen’s archives and we encourage all our clients to do the same.
Yizkor books can be a goldmine of information for people researching their Jewish genealogy. If you know the name of the town where your family lived, you can learn a great deal about their lifestyle and society from that town’s Yizkor book, and you might be fortunate enough to find a mention of your relatives in the written accounts or among the necrologies (lists of the dead). Like Michael Schoeman, you might even hit the jackpot…
Michael has agreed to let me publish the English translation of his grandfather’s article in the Biala Rawska Yizkor book, for the benefit of other people researching the Jewish community of Biala and surrounding regions. Joseph Weber’s account is packed with details about life in Biala, as well as some very interesting observations about that society. I especially enjoyed his insight about how there were no poor people in the town because the general standard of living was so low and that rich people would give away their fortunes in order to marry their children off well. The religious-social stratification and snobbery is also evoked quite clearly.
Thank you to Michael for making this translation available to us, and thank you to the late Joseph Weber, and to the thousands of other Yizkor Book contributors, for having the foresight to write down your memories for the benefit of us all.