The typical Yizkor book opens with a collection of historical sketches of the town and its Jewish community and sometimes biographies of prominent religious or Zionist leaders. A second section usually describes various aspects of Jewish life in the interwar period: significant events in the life of the community; political, religious, and charitable organizations and institutions; and persons of note. Another section of the Yizkor book is invariably devoted to what the editors called “lifeways and characters” – in essence, any aspect of Jewish life that a townsperson found significant and worthy of being remembered.
The last section of narrative is always dedicated to the period of the Shoah (Holocaust). Here survivors write of their experiences in ghettos and camps, in hiding and in partisan brigades; of encounters with Nazis, local collaborators, and (all too infrequently) rescuers; and of last moments with loved ones who would soon be marched to a mass killing site in the nearby forest or loaded onto trains bound for an extermination camp. Since memories this intense are not easily conveyed in prose, the section on the Shoah frequently includes poetry as well.
Some Yizkor books also include a section on the post-Holocaust period, such as pieces on organizations of townspeople in Israel and other countries, photographs of annual memorial ceremonies, and survivors’ trips back to the hometown.