in a library, one old woman hands another woman a book
Liz Igra (right) lends a book from the Holocaust library. (Photo/Marlene Frankel)

Holocaust library opens on Sacramento synagogue campus

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For years, Liz Igra heard the same lament from teachers eager to bring Holocaust studies into their classrooms. “They would say, ‘I know all this,’ ” she said, referring to the historical facts. But they felt their follow-up question —“How do I teach it?” — hadn’t been addressed to their satisfaction.

Now, the Sacramento resident has come up with a tool for teaching the lessons of the past by opening the Central Valley Holocaust Educators’ Network Library.

Located on the campus of the Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento, the library contains some 2,100 books (at last count) and other materials accumulated by Igra over the course of her 82 years. Fred Rosenbaum, founding director of Lehrhaus Judaica in Berkeley, also contributed several crates of books and archival documents.

The library’s mission is to make Holocaust scholarship accessible to a wide audience, serving Jewish and non-Jewish educators and students, the Jewish community and the general public in and around Sacramento.

“It supports teachers, and reaches out to the public in a way that makes the remembrance of the Holocaust more significant by connecting it to history,” said Igra, who escaped a ghetto in Poland in 1942, surviving the war by hiding with her mother in Hungary. “Because the Holocaust was so well-documented, by both perpetrators and survivors, it has served as a blueprint or a way to analyze genocide in general.”

The library opened its doors last October, with Rabbi Michael Berenbaum, who formerly served as project director for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, giving an inaugural speech.

The facility functions as a traditional library, allowing for individuals to check out books. Some rare or out-of-print materials can only be examined in-house.

Igra had previously stored her collection in her home. According to Iris Bachman, secretary of the board of trustees of the Central Valley Holocaust Educators’ Network, “When it got to the point that they were spilling out windows, Liz began looking for a new home” for the materials.

Rabbi Reuven Taff of the Mosaic Law Congregation encouraged her to house the collection at his synagogue. “The library and resource center is a commitment to defending the voices and memories of the victims of the Holocaust,” Taff said, “by way of allowing the community to have access to primary sources related to the Holocaust.”

Taliah Berger, program director for the Kashenberg Ostrow Hayward Library and Cultural Center of the Mosaic Law Congregation, said the library is already having an impact in the community.

“Cal State Sacramento doesn’t offer a Jewish studies major, but when the library opened, groups of students began to visit,” Berger said. “Liz took time to speak with each and every one of them individually.”

Perry Fein

Perry Fein is a freelance writer.