Sacramento Jewish leaders vowed Sunday to continue the work of Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, who taught generations to “never forget” the Holocaust or its 11 million victims, 6 million of them Jews.
“Elie Wiesel’s message to the world was that we must not only remember the Holocaust but that memory calls us to action,” said Liz Igra, a survivor who founded the Central Valley Holocaust Educators’ Network (www.cvhen.com). “He said, ‘Action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all,’ ‘the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.’ ”
Since 2009, Igra and her team of 12 have trained hundreds of educators how to teach about the Holocaust.
Igra, 81, asks her audiences to ponder: “How was it possible that a democratic, culturally advanced, socially progressive country was able to engineer the mass destruction of a people? How did the the actions and behavior of the victims, perpetrators and, most of all, bystanders influence this event and make it possible?”
To help teachers and students answer those questions, she plans to open a library and resource center this fall at Mosaic Law Congregation, 2300 Sierra Blvd., Sacramento.
Igra said she will donate 1,700 books to the new library, including multiple copies of Wiesel’s works. Igra’s center will be the first in Northern California devoted exclusively to the Holocaust, said Rabbi Reuven Taff.
“Elie Wiesel was so important because he spoke out,” Taff said Sunday. “He was really the conscience of the world. He spoke out against genocide in Darfur, the Armenian genocide. He was a role model for all of us.”
Wiesel died Saturday at 87 – 71 years after the Jewish teen from Romania was shipped to Auschwitz. In his best-known book, “Night,” he wrote about the smokestacks spewing the stench of burning flesh and the pits of babies burned to death.
“Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned to wreaths of smoke beneath the silent blue sky,” Wiesel wrote.
Taff said one of his congregants, Holocaust survivor Helen Navi, grew up in Sighet, Romania, with Wiesel. When Navi died in 2002, the rabbi called Wiesel, who said of Navi: “There was a deep melancholy in her when she spoke and when she was silent. In a mysterious way, a part of her remained in Sighet. Now ... she will tell the celestial tribunal the rest of the story – our story.”
Taff and Igra joined the Jewish Federation of The Sacramento Region in promising to honor Wiesel’s admonition: “Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Igra worked as an elementary school teacher in the Elk Grove Unified School District for 17 years. She said she’s spoken to thousands of students throughout the region, many who don’t know about the Holocaust.
“You can’t remember what you don’t know,” she said.