As the last remaining Holocaust survivors die off, the region’s first Holocaust library opened Sunday to ensure “the worst mass murder in the history of the world will never be forgotten,” said founder Liz Igra.
Igra, director of the Central Valley Holocaust Educators’ Network, has donated 1,700 of her own books to the library, which she hopes will ultimately house as many as 3,000 items, including memoirs, audio and video recordings, photographs and primary documents.
Several hundred people visited Mosaic Law Congregation for the library’s official dedication. Many thumbed through accounts of the Holocaust and its victims and survivors.
Some brought their own family artifacts. Michael Neumann of Sacramento brought in a thick gray volume containing details on the thousands of Berlin Jews killed by the Nazis, including his grandfather, Julius Neumann, “born Feb. 21, 1880, transport of Auschwitz March 2, 1943.”
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Igra, 81, escaped the Holocaust in Poland with her mother in 1942, but her father died in a Nazi death camp. The founder of Sacramento’s Shalom School and the educators’ network, Igra has dedicated her life to teaching children about the Holocaust and has trained teachers who have shared the story of the massacre of 11 million people, 6 million of them Jews, at the hands of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
“When the survivors cannot speak up for themselves any longer, there needs to be another way of communicating this history to the next generation and those who want to know,” Igra said. “We must do more than remember ... it is our mandate to use what we learn every day for good.”
The library’s chief librarian, Henry Gordon, will help people navigate the collection to learn about their ancestors and the villages they came from. Gordon has been working with Igra since 2013 to create the library’s catalog, which can be searched at www.librarycat.org/lib/cvhenlibrary.
“Holocaust education helps students connect with human rights issues and genocide in the modern era,” said Gordon, a reference librarian and teacher in the Los Rios Community College District.
The new Holocaust library opens at a critical moment in American history, said Rabbi Michael Berenbaum, who served as project director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
“The Holocaust occurred over 12 years in 27 countries,” he told the congregation, noting that in Poland’s Treblinka extermination camp alone, the Nazis sent 900,000 Jews to the gas chambers and less than 100 survived, only a few of whom are alive today.
“The Holocaust echoes,” Berenbaum said. “We now live in a climate in which hatred is acceptable in its expression. It is now amplified and magnified by the Internet.” Just a generation ago, “if you were anti-Semitic or racist, you didn’t speak of it, but now there’s a celebration of hatred.”
The courage of those who managed to escape and give life and hope to new generations should never be forgotten, Berenbaum said. “The new library provides a powerful tool to educate students about hatred, racism, indifference, apathy and neglect,” he said. “We can teach people about what it means to be an upstander, not a bystander.”
The library includes stories of heroic rescuers such as Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist credited with saving the lives of some 1,200 Jews by employing them in his factories in Poland and bribing Nazi officials to keep them safe. Marlene Frankel, one of several children of Holocaust survivors who turned out Sunday, said she owes her life to Schindler, who employed her father, Anschel Rubinstein.
The story of her parents, both of whom survived concentration camps, is featured in a 2017 calendar found in the library that documents the memories compiled by children of Holocaust survivors.
Murial Brounstein, 73, said her mother survived by escaping on a ship in 1938, but her grandfather, who had served in the German army in World War I, was hanged by the Nazis for refusing to wear a Jewish armband and her grandmother was shot to death. “The Holocaust can’t be forgotten by future generations,” she said. “My grandparents can’t have died in vain.”
That will never happen, said Mosaic Law Rabbi Reuven Taff, who blessed the new library. He praised the diminutive Igra as “a giant of a woman, whose inspiration, leadership, devotion and stubbornness” brought the the library to fruition.
“It will help ensure each and every one of us will never become bystanders,” he said. “Judaism is a religion not as much of creed as it is of deed.”
If you go
Central Valley Holocaust Educators’ Network Library is at Mosaic Law Congregation, 2300 Sierra Blvd., Sacramento. It is open to the public Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesdays from 1 to 6 p.m., Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and by appointment. Contact Elizabeth Igra at email@example.com.