Cover image for The encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust
The encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust
Spector, Shmuel.
Publication Information:
Jerusalem : Yad Vashem ; New York : New York University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
3 volumes (1769 pages) : illustrations, maps ; 29 cm
General Note:
"These three volumes are an abridgment of the multi-volume Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities published in Hebrew by Yad Vashem"--T.p. verso.
v. 1. A-J -- v. 2. K-Sered -- v. 3. Seredina-Buda-Z.
Added Uniform Title:
Pinḳas ha-ḳehilot.



Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DS135.E8 E45 2001 V.3 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Reference
DS135.E8 E45 2001 V.2 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize Non-Circ
DS135.E8 E45 2001 V.1 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize Non-Circ

On Order



More information and sample text and photos available on the companion web site

Winner of the 2001-2002 National Jewish Book Award, Reference

Winner, Best Reference Resource, 2001, Library Journal

Winner, Editor's Choice Award, Reference, 2001, Booklist

Winner, Best Reference Book, 2001, Association of Jewish Libraries

New York University Press announces with pride the publication of a remarkable project, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust. Edited by Dr. Shmuel Spector and the late Dr. Geoffrey Wigoder and published in conjunction with Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Authority of Israel, the Encyclopedia represents the fruit of more than three decades of labor and stands as one of the most important and ambitious projects the Press has published. Nobel Peace Prize-winner Elie Wiesel contributed the foreword.

Today throughout much of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, only fragmentary remnants of once thriving Jewish communities can be found as evidence of more than two thousand years of vibrant Jewish presence among the nations of the world. These communities, many of them ancient, were systematically destroyed by Hitler's forces during the Holocaust. Yet each of their stories-from small village enclaves to large urban centers-is unique in its details and represents one of the countless intertwined threads that comprise the rich tapestry of Jewish history.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust captures these lost images. In three volumes, it chronicles the people, habits and customs of more than 6,500 Jewish communities that thrived during the early part of the twentieth century only to be changed irrevocably by the war. It clarifies precise locations of settlements based on documents and maps found in recently opened archives; it traces their development through history; it shares small details of everyday life-the culture, the politics, and the faith that inspired the people; and its photographs put faces on the immeasurable loss.

Based on decades of research at Yad Vashem, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust tells the story of thousands of Jewish communities in concise prose, illustrated with maps and poignant images of a world that can no longer be visited. The Encyclopedia is a rich source of information for students, teachers, genealogists and anyone interested in the pageant of Jewish life through the ages.

From the Foreword

"But the enemy did not only annihilate individuals; his aim was also to destroy our social structures, our economic foundations, religious and secular, our schools, our institutions, our libraries, our workshops, our synagogues, our cultural centers-in a word: our communities.

. . . In the Jewish world one knew a town by its Jewish life. Belz and Munkacs, Bialystok and Amsterdam, Kiev and Lille and Zablotow-offering families and individuals a sense of security and countless opportunities for fulfillment, each community had its own particular characteristics and problems, its roots, its challenges, and its ambitions. . . . To understand the extent of the unprecedented crimes committed against the Jewish people in Europe is not enough; one must also seek to understand the life of this people before the catastrophe." --Elie Wiesel

-Three volumes
-1,824 pages
-81/2 x 11
-More than 6,500 communities profiled
-600 b&w photographs and illustrations
-17 pages of maps
-21-page glossary
-Complete bibliography
-Index of communities including alternate spellings and pronunciations
-Index of personalities

Go to companion web site

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The Holocaust was a calculated effort to wipe out all traces of an ancient culture. The Nazis not only tried to destroy the Jewish people but they also wanted to obliterate any memory of them, whether in the form of books, works of art, schools, synagogues, or businesses. Fortunately, they did not succeed. In fact, the Nazis' meticulous documentation of their efforts helped create a record of what they tried to annihilate. Survivors provided testimony, too. In 1953, the Israeli Parliament passed the Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority Law to perpetuate the memory of all that the Nazis destroyed. The resulting museum, memorial, archives, and research center, located in a country settled in large part by survivors, takes its name from Isaiah 56:5: "I will give them in My House and within My walls a monument (yad) and a name (vashem)." As part of their mission, the scholars working there produced a 38-volume Hebrew-language encyclopedia of Jewish communities. This three-volume English-language work is a condensation of that source. Jewish life is communal. Study, worship, charity, and family require a group. The encyclopedia chronicles the people, habits, and customs of more than 6,500 Jewish communities that were thriving in the early part of the twentieth century. Their precise locations are based on documents from recently opened archives. The alphabetical entries are arranged by community name transcribed as it is in the language of its country without diacritical marks. Russian names are transliterated using the standard English-language system. Hebrew personal names are transliterated rather than translated. The country locations provided are from September 1939, with added information about their present location after border changes; for example, "Bobrka, Lwow dist., Poland, today Ukraine." For parts of Germany annexed by Poland, both the Polish and German names are given: "Gdansk (Ger. Danzig)." Entries range in length from a few sentences for small villages to several pages for large communities such as Vilna and Warsaw. They include information about how long Jews lived there, what kind of work they did, the communal facilities that they maintained (synagogues, schools, ritual baths, etc.), attacks on the community throughout history, how many Jews lived there when the Nazis arrived, and how many were deported and killed by them. In this condensed edition, the pre-World War I material has been abridged so that the editors could emphasize the interwar and Holocaust periods. Statistical tables and the source lists at the end of articles have been eliminated. A glossary, selected bibliography, chronological table of Jewish communities from the fourth century B.C.E. to 1989, and a series of maps showing Jewish communities, concentration camps, death camps, and mass murder sites appear at the end of volume 3. There are two indexes, one of communities and one of persons. The "Index of Communities" includes those communities with main entries, those mentioned in the text without main entries, and variant spellings and additional names. There are cross-references in the index, but not in the text. There are no main entries for people, but the "Index of Persons" refers users to the articles where their names appear. The encyclopedia has beautiful archival black-and-white photographs portraying daily life in the cities and towns discussed in the text--shopkeepers, students, athletes, and political activists go about their daily business. There is also a pictorial supplement, "In Memoriam," at the end of volume 3, documenting what happened to these vibrant communities that existed throughout Europe and North Africa. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust is an outstanding tribute to the vanished communities as well as a valuable document. It shows users how old and respected communities such as that of Tunis, dating from the tenth century B.C.E., and Vilna, from the fifteenth century A.D., were systematically destroyed. By preserving their memory, the editors have created a valuable resource for students, scholars, genealogists, and anyone interested in modern history. They have given the dead a monument and a name.

Publisher's Weekly Review

This majestic three-volume encyclopedia, abridged from a 30-volume set in Hebrew and with a foreword by Elie Wiesel, chronicles Jewish life before and during the Holocaust. Arranged alphabetically by town, thousands of entries explore centuries of Jewish life. Some entries, particularly for large cities, provide information on Jewish residents as early as the Middle Ages and discuss the fate of Jews during the Black Death persecutions (1348-1349) and various pogroms from the 17th to 20th centuries. Each entry provides vital information on the town's Jewish inhabitants on the eve of German occupation, gives the dates of Jewish roundups and mass executions and estimates how many Jews from that community survived the war. Except in very rare cases (as with Copenhagen), the survival statistics are horrifying. But the encyclopedia offers more than statistics: the numbers come to life through more than 600 black-and-white photographs, most of which are from the archives of Israel's Yad Vashem museum. Here we see the vibrancy of Jewish life before the war kolkhoz theater groups and swing bands, weddings and riotous Purim parties, shops and synagogues. Several of the photographs depict Jewish military units from WWI; others show Jewish young people looking bored in chemistry class or diligently trying to master the violin during orchestra practice. A final 56-page section entitled "In Memoriam" provides unforgettable, haunting photographs of the Holocaust itself. This three-volume set is a required acquisition for libraries and anyone interested in Jewish studies. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

These three volumes are a translation and abridgment of the 30-volume Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities published in Hebrew by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Authority of Israel. Over 6000 communities are profiled by an international set of scholars in these glossy, double-column pages, which are deftly illustrated and have an easy-to-read typeface. Each community is listed alphabetically in bold face by historical name, with current name, district, country at the time, and current location (e.g., Poland, today Belarus) also given as appropriate. A historical survey follows, dating from the first recorded appearance of a Jewish community to its ultimate destruction during the Holocaust. Entries on major communities (for example, Berlin) may run over ten pages; many smaller communities are given, at the very least, a long, detailed paragraph noting major industries and examining cultural and political life. Scholars, of course, will welcome these volumes, but informed lay readers, including Jewish genealogists, will find them useful and informative as well. Patrons will want to use these volumes in combination with the Encyclopaedia Judaica (1972) for their initial research on Jewish communities. Libraries should also be sure to have one of the new single-volume Holocaust encyclopedias and guides, The Holocaust Encyclopedia (LJ 5/1/01), The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (Facts on File, 2000), or The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust (LJ 3/15/01). Highly recommended for libraries with strong Jewish studies or Holocaust holdings. Paul Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This important and well-illustrated summary of the 22-volume Hebrew-language Pinkasei Kehillot provides information often hard to find about some 6,500 European (and some North African) Jewish communities that were destroyed or greatly affected by the Holocaust. It includes even tiny former Jewish communities but excludes the large Jewish communities of London and New York. Although the work provides brief historical background, it emphasizes the interwar years and the period of the Holocaust. Important personalities appear only as they are important to the communities. The complex changes of geographic names and nationalities are avoided by using a cut-off date of September 1939, the beginning of WW II. Articles are not signed, but there is a long list of specialized editors and contributors. The work is made more useful by supplements and indexes, including a grim pictorial supplement of the Holocaust; maps of each important country showing major Jewish centers and indigenous labor and concentration camps; a valuable glossary that includes descriptions of numerous organizations; a detailed but select country-by-country bibliography; a chronology of important events in Jewish communities through the Holocaust; and an index of communities. Finally, an index of persons rounds out an extremely useful new work. Highly recommended for all collections. D. Kranzler formerly, Queensborough Community College, CUNY