THE HISTORY OF THE HOLOCAUST LIBRARY AND RESOURCE CENTER Established by the Jewish Federation of Reading in memory of those who perished and dedicated to those who are our future. April 19, 1993 (28 NISAN 5753) It was February 22, 1989, that Albright College’s then president, David G. Ruffer, received news that the Jewish Federation of Reading wished to establish a Holocaust Center on the campus of Albright College.
In a letter to Alma Lakin, president of the Jewish Federation of Reading, he wrote, “The news that the Federation would like to establish the Holocaust Center at Albright College was a very welcomed and exciting event on a rainy Wednesday. Thank you for the demonstration of confidence in Albright and the Gingrich Library. As we plan for the renovation and reuse of the library building, we will include the center in our thinking.”
It was during that same time that Ed and Alma Lakin and Albert and Eunice Boscov hosted a private fundraising event at the Lakin home to benefit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The Reading Jewish community had been asked to lead the fundraising initiative for small cities that resulted in an extraordinary success. “We had an interest in the project and became involved because we felt it was important to the country,” Ed Lakin said in a local newspaper article highlighting the private fundraising effort. At the time, the national campaign had raised $70 million of the $147 million needed to build the five-story museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Reading effort raised more than $750,000.
With the national museum project generating attention and an enthusiastic response in hand from the College, the Jewish Federation and Albright rolled up their collective “sleeves” and began planning for the needs of the center to be housed in its campus library.
A committee was formed at the Federation and trips planned to other Holocaust centers including the Holocaust Resource Center in Clifton, New Jersey, were established and funded through its federation and a model for Reading’s initiative. A list of area Holocaust survivors was compiled and a subcommittee formed to immediately begin interviewing and taping local survivors in an effort to ensure that their stories be told and available for future generations. Books were reviewed and purchased to begin the foundation of an important collection that would form the basis of the early library offerings.
Members of the Federation committee included Daniel Tannenbaum, executive director of the Federation; Barbara Nazimov, Federation staff; Alma Lakin, president; Judith Botvin; Sidney & Esther Bratt; Dr. Harriet Comite; Barbara Fromm; Hilde Gernsheimer; Jeff Gernsheimer; Karin Goldstaub; Debbie Goldman; Walter & Ruth Hamburger; Allen Heisler; Neal Jacobs; Dr. Paul Leisawitz; Joseph & Bettina Najer; Sharon Spinrad; Susan Weiss; Corinne Wernick and Richard Yashek.
By invitation, Dr. William Hannaford, director of Albright’s Gingrich Library, and Dr. Eugene Lubot, vice president for academic affairs, met in Washington with Dr. Michael Berenbaum, chair of the Education Committee of the United States Holocaust Museum. They further explored the structure of the future center with representatives from both Kean and Ramapo Colleges in New Jersey.
The initial plan for the library and resource center was grand and even received a “Wow” from the Federation in a letter to Albright on April 27, 1990. It was in that same letter that news of a temporary delay in the plans for the center was announced and the urgency of “Operation Exodus” shared with the college.
Operation Exodus was a nationwide initiative by Jews across North America to rescue and relocate thousands of Soviet Jews. The Iron curtain had fallen and the gates were opening to an unprecedented modern-day exodus, but the cost of undertaking such a task was staggering. The local Reading federation had joined federations from across the country to raise more than $1 billion to save and resettle more than one million soviet Jews in Israel and the United States.
Funding concerns for the establishment of the Holocaust Library and Resource Center at Albright deepened as more and more money needed to be raised in the local Jewish community for the rescue efforts; in addition to finances and budgets at the College tightening as well. In a shared moment of frustration, Dr. Ruffer wrote to the Federation, “At the moment, we (Albright & the Federation) have no center and no funds for it.”
After several years of planning and collecting testimonies and other related materials, the Federation and Albright College chose to move ahead with the center, relying on volunteers and determination. Its mission was “to provide community awareness, information and education about the Nazi Holocaust to prevent this tragic event from happening again.”
The Holocaust Library and Resource Center was dedicated on Monday, April 19, 1993, during a two-part program held at the College’s chapel. The dedication was preceded by a Holocaust commemoration program led by another one of Albright’s past president, Dr. Ellen Hurwitz, with a proclamation by Reading mayor, Warren Haggerty. Irene Opdyke, a Polish Christian and the recipient of Israel’s Medal of Honor for saving Jewish lives during World War II, was the keynote speaker.
During the dedication of the center, Senator Michael O’Pake presented a proclamation on behalf of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recognizing the importance of the center and Rabbi Alan Weitzman placed a mezuzah on the doorpost. Alma Lakin presented the remarks.
Initially, the center struggled to meet its mission due to limited hours and lack of funds for staffing. In September 1995, the Federation hired its newly retired executive director as the center’s first coordinator. Under the direction of Dan Tannenbaum, the center began to formalize as a vital resource for the education of the Holocaust in Berks County. Working with public and private schools, religious institutions and community organizations and individuals interested in learning more about the Holocaust, the Holocaust Library and Resource Center began to provide educational programs that included survivors, liberators and other speakers on a variety of Holocaust related topics. Collaborating with the Berks county Intermediate Unit, the center organized workshops open to teachers in both Berks and Schuylkill counties.
After the establishment of the center, a course on the Holocaust was offered through the History Department at Albright. Enrollments were high and the College soon expanded the number of Holocaust related courses offered to students.
Today, the Holocaust Studies Program offers an interdisciplinary framework for the investigation of ethical and moral choices. Faculty from the History, Religious Studies, Political Science and Modern Foreign Language Departments work with students to confront such issues as prejudice, racism and stereotyping. The center has also expanded its mission to collect information and educate the community on all genocides.
In addition to more than 2,300 books, the center provides access to more than 300 videos, CDs and DVDs, as well as three dozen taped interviews with local survivors and liberators. The center also provides more than 100 items suitable for use by children and 80 electronic books.
The Holocaust Library and Resource Center at Albright College is a member of the Association of Holocaust Organizations, a network for the advancement of Holocaust education, remembrance and research.
Proudly, the partnership that began 20 years ago between a college and a federation continues today, united in a share mission – “to never forget.”
In honor of Edwin and Alma Lakin's lifelong commitment to Holocaust education and their tireless work in support of Albright's Holocaust Library and Resource Center, the center was renamed the Edwin and Alma N. '51 Lakin Holocaust Library and Resource Center in May 2014.
Source: A Night to Honor Ed and Alma Lakin and their Lifelong Committment to Holocaust Education, Saturday, October 9, 2010, Albright College