Chelm, Poland Yizkor Book

Project Name. Translation of Chelm, Poland Yizkor Book

Project Leader
Leah Z. Davidson

JewishGen Yizkor Book Project Manager: Lance Ackerfeld

Project Synopsis

Chelm is an old town with a long history of Jewish life. Chelm was situated on the big international commercial routes from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea into middle Europe. The international trade route brought the first Jews to Chelm. Concrete evidence of Jewish residence in the town is confirmed by some 15th century gravestones. The first official census of the Jewish population in Poland, in 1550, showed 371 Jews. At the outbreak of World War II, between 15,000 and 18,000 Jews reportedly resided in Chelm. As a result of “actions” most of the residents were murdered, or sent either to work camps or to Sobibor.

Two yizkor books have been written about Chelm, one in 1980-81 and the other in 1954. This proposal is to support the translation of the latter, a 731-page book in Yiddish: Yisker-bukh Chelm (Commemoration book Chelm); Editors: Mellech Bakalczuk-Felin, Johannesburg, Former Residents of Chelm, 1954. The book's Table of Contents and a few chapters are now online at, the work of volunteers. In order to complete the translation, JewishGen requires the services of a professional translator.

Key Audiences

Jewish genealogists seeking to trace their roots in this town constitute the primary audience for the material.  However, the material has the potential to be of broader interest to scholars specializing in Jewish history and society in this region.

Project Importance

Yizkor books are unique sources of information on once vibrant towns, primarily in central and eastern Europe, whose Jewish populations were destroyed in the Holocaust. Written after World War II by émigrés and Holocaust survivors, yizkor books contain narratives of the history of the town, details of daily life, religious and political figures and movements, religious and secular education, and gripping stories of the major intellectual and Zionist movements of the 20th century. The necrologies and lists of residents are of tremendous genealogical value, as often the names of individuals who were taken to extermination camps or shot in the forests are not recorded elsewhere. Usually written in Hebrew or Yiddish, these important books are not accessible to most users, who cannot read these languages. Thus, the translation of these books into English unlocks this information to many more researchers all over the world. The JewishGen Yizkor Book Project received the award in 2002 for outstanding contribution to Jewish genealogy by the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.

By the 16th Century Chelm was noted as an important cultural center. In 1931, close to 47% of the town's population was Jewish. At the outbreak of World War II there were at least 15,000-18,000 Jews in Chelm. This number does not take into account the refugees who, fleeing east, got stuck in Chelm. The first action took place at the end of 1939. The “liquidation-aktzion” occurred in December 1942, during which 7-8,000 Jews were sent to Sobibor. A small number of Jewish skilled workers were left in Chelm until the Nazis shot and killed them on March 31st, 1943.

Project Description

Approximately 700 pages of Yiddish remain to be translated and put online at To accomplish that JewishGen will hire a professional translator. The project coordinator will select the order in which to translate the chapters and will work closely with the translator to ensure a grammatically correct and idiomatic translation. Specific tasks the project coordinator will perform include proofreading, editing, and preparing the work for submission to the Yizkor Book Project.

Estimated Cost. $26,250


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Updated 21 Aug 2009 by LA