PHOENIX, Arizona (KTVK, KPHO) -- The Phoenix Holocaust Association (PHA), with the help of a dedicated board member, put together a unique project she calls "a labor of love.' They collected Holocaust books and other books relating to genocides so they could donate them to the libraries at Arizona prisons.
Dr. Ettie Zilber is a board member at PHA and has spent the last several weeks, if not months putting together this project that took a life of its own. It was created with the hopes that these kinds of books would reach people incarcerated all over the state and share stories with them either for educational purposes or to make a difference in their lives.
Zilber says she at first wasn't familiar with the prison system as a whole but learned quite a lot about the process, including that there are a total of 17 prisons in Arizona - 10 state prisons, 6 federal prisons, and one juvenile prison. Her hope is possibly one day to be able to donate books to all of them, reaching as many inmates as possible.
Arizona is the home to at least 80 remaining Holocaust survivors She says they were able to donate about 650 books on October 18 and are working on collecting more to donate down the road. Zilber says she got enough books that it took three cars to bring them over to the prison in Phoenix!
"The response from the public has been fantastic, as 95% of the books were donated by interested people. Others donated funds with which we purchased additional books. The response from the educators, librarians, and administrators in the prisons has also been heartwarming," she says.
She worked with PHA to collect books after seeing an outpour of support from people all over Arizona and even from around the world. She is also working with the principals and educators inside the prisons to help provide resources, including booklists from the Arizona Department of Education. Before the bill passed in Arizona, the Arizona Department of Education built a task force with PHA, survivors, educators, and more to help build up a program and curriculum, so the hope now is that the project reaches the prison system as well.
Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry (ADCRR) says they are thankful for the books in a tweet.
"ADCRR is thankful for the donation of hundreds of books from the Phoenix Holocaust Association. These books will be available for educational opportunities about the Holocaust and will be distributed and available in our prison complex libraries across the state," says ADCRR.
In July of this past year, Governor Doug Ducey signed the Holocaust and genocide education bill. This bill was a project PHA worked with educators, survivors, and the Department of Education on that would require students between seventh and 12th grades to learn about the Holocaust and other genocides at least twice, which is part of the reason why Zilber started this project.
"When the Holocaust bill was passed - Bill 2241. I think two months ago, and now all schools in Arizona must teach the Holocaust. They must include units on the Holocaust twice between middle school and high school. That's the new law that just went into effect, and it'll take a while till the schools you know prepare themselves to teach them about the Holocaust and other genocides," she says.
Zilber says that there is a juvenile prison program that offers high school educational programs for people under the age of 22. With this new mandate in place, this book donation project Zilber put together would help provide the prisons with resources to help teach prisoners about the Holocaust and other genocides.
“A while back, I had in my research on the Holocaust and Holocaust education, I saw a video by the famous Eva Kor. I had seen a video of Eva Kor speaking to inmates. I was just taken by the fact that they invited her and that the inmates were totally mesmerized by her. she told her story to the inmates, and that sort of sat in the back of my mind,” she says.
Both of those things for Zilber sat in the back of her mind until she saw some news about an Arizona man.
“Some anti-Semitic activities [were happening] here in Arizona and that the man, the perpetrator, was sentenced here in Arizona to jail and all of a sudden I thought, you know, maybe they need to teach about the Holocaust in the jails here in Arizona.”
Zilber says PHA is also working with the educators and principals to get Holocaust survivors to visit the prisons while they are still around, which is one of the inspirations behind Zilber putting this project together.
There is no set date yet to drop off any more books, but Zilber says she is already collecting books from donations or trips to local Arizona used book stores. She is hoping to donate some books to a juvenile prison in the Phoenix area next.
If you are interested in learning more about PHA or want to donate some books, visit their website here. You can make a monetary donation on the website but make sure you say it's for Arizona prisons so that the money will go to Zilber's project. If you would like to donate physical books, contact her on their website or at firstname.lastname@example.org, and she will make arrangements to get the books from you.
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