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Oregon Senate honors Holocaust survivor


The Oregon Senate on Tuesday honored one of the state’s Holocaust survivors for sharing his life story and his experiences during the Holocaust with thousands of Oregon students and community members.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 21 – which passed by a 27-0 vote on the Senate floor – honors Alter Wiener for his contributions to Holocaust education. He was born in 1926 and died in 2018, of injuries sustained after being hit by an automobile.

“I was very proud to consider Alter Wiener as a strong influence and a friend,” said Sen. Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego), who carried the bill on the Senate floor. “He turned a life that, at an early age, was riddled with horror and tragedy into one of love and education. He was a very special man. He was taken from us too soon and unexpectedly.”

Wiener was born in Crzanow, Poland, to Mordechai-Markus and Pearl Wiener. When he was 13 years old, Wiener’s father was murdered by German forces following their invasion of Poland. In 1942, Wiener was deported to the Blechhammer forced labor camp. Over the next three years, he was imprisoned in five different forced labor camps.

In 1945, Wiener was liberated by Soviet armed forces from the Waldenburg concentration camp. At 18 years old, he weighed only 80 pounds. After his liberation, Wiener returned to Poland to search for his relatives. He found that only five cousins had survived the Holocaust and that 123 of his family members had perished.

Wiener moved to New York in 1960 and became a United States citizen. After arriving in Oregon in 2000, Wiener began giving presentations to high school students on his life story and his Holocaust experiences.

In the following years, he made nearly 1,000 appearances in schools and other community organizations. He gave his final presentation at Lakeridge High School, in Lake Oswego, on Dec. 5 of last year. He passed away on Dec. 11 in Hillsboro.

“This is the highest honor that we can pay to a man who suffered greatly and, instead of turning that into hatred and anger, made his path forward in love and acceptance,” Wagner said.

On a related note, Oregon’s schools will be required to teach about the Holocaust and genocide as part of the statewide social studies curriculum, under a bill that passed the Oregon Senate Tuesday.

Senate Bill 664 – which passed 27-0 on the Senate floor – requires school districts to provide instruction about the Holocaust and genocide. It also directs the Oregon Department of Education to provide technical assistance to school districts on implementing the curriculum. Currently, 10 other states require some level of Holocaust and genocide education in their classrooms.

“There is a generation of young people coming up who don’t even know what the Holocaust was,” said Sen. Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego), who carried the bill on the Senate floor. “This bill will help develop further compassion and understanding among our youth as our country has seen a recent increase in anti-Semitic violence and hate speech. Knowledge is the best weapon to combat hate.”

School districts around the state provide instructional programs that include Oregon State Board of Education content standards. In 2018, the board adopted new content standards for social studies, requiring high school students to study the oppression of ethnic and religious groups.

Current standards don’t include specific references to the Holocaust or genocide. Senate Bill 664 adds a requirement to educate students all over the state specifically about the Holocaust and genocide.

Claire Sarnowski is a Lake Oswego high school student. She introduced Wagner to Alter Wiener, a Polish Holocaust survivor who had shared his story with about 1,000 high school students in the state since 2000. During the following discussion with Wiener, Wagner decided to bring forward Senate Bill 664. Wiener died tragically after being hit by a car in Hillsboro, where he lived.

“In my classes, I heard students describe how thankful they were for their family, education and life due to the fact many during the Holocaust were deprived of these entities that we so frequently take for granted,” Sarnowski testified in support of the bill. “I am sure this is a common reaction when students hear any survivor speak of their experiences.

“As a student, I was saddened by our education on topics such as the Holocaust and other genocides which were merely glanced over and lacked depth. More importantly, I realized that my peers did not receive valuable lessons that accompany these teachings such as compassion, gratitude, perseverance, tolerance and acceptance. In schools today, prejudice is as prevalent as ever since acts of racial, social and religious injustice occur in our classrooms.”

Senate Bill 664 now goes to the House for consideration.

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