Funeral held Friday for Alter Wiener: author, speaker, Holocaust survivor
A well-known community member and Holocaust survivor, Alter Wiener, died late Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 11, after being hit by a car while crossing the street in Hillsboro, according to the Hillsboro Police Department.
Officers responded to a crash involving a car and a pedestrian on Northeast Century Boulevard — to the north of Northeast Brighton Street — at 4:57 p.m., said spokesman Eric Bunday.
Wiener, 92, was wearing dark clothing as he was struck by a southbound Honda Accord, Bunday said.
Wiener, who immigrated to the United States from Poland after World War II, is known as the author of "64735: From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor's Autobiography." Self-published in 2006, as of 2016 the book had sold 35,000 copies.
Wiener's father was murdered by Nazis when he was 13 years old. Wiener himself was taken to a forced labor camp at 15, he said.
He eventually spent time in five different concentration camps; when his last camp was liberated in 1945, he was 18 years old and weighed just 80 pounds. He was one of only two surviving members of his entire extended family. He eventually would lose 123 members of his extended family in the Holocaust.
Modest and soft-spoken, Weiner was an extremely popular speaker in Washington County schools and civic groups. And he was extremely serious when he explained to students the importance of listening to his story in rooms and classrooms where those same students sat in absolute silence as he spoke.
In 2013, he addressed a packed house at the Beaverton History Center, recalling as he had hundreds of times before a story of kindness involving a German woman who worked in the same textile mill where he and other Jews were forced to work. Germans at the time were forbidden to have contact with prisoners and Wiener recalled the woman made eye contact with the nearly starving youth.
Soon he found she had left him a sandwich containing two slices of white bread with cheese.
"Every day she left a sandwich for me," he recalled of the kindness that continued for 30 days, saying he has no idea what happened to the woman or why the sandwiches stopped. "But she's my hero until the last day of my life."
Wiener was also a much-loved speaker at Sherwood schools and civic forums. However in November of 2016, he announced that his Sept. 23 appearance at the Sherwood Center for the Arts had been his last public appearance due to his age and health issues. In an email exchange, he answered questions about giving up public speaking, making two very important points.
One related to the takeaway from his concentration camp experience:
"It is is a warning for the future — what prejudice may lead to and how tolerance is imperative."
Asked about the most important thing he hoped young people would take away from his lectures, Wiener responded, "That prejudice and stereotyping is absurd, hatred is self-destructive; love is powerful and makes life meaningful."
Wiener had said that he didn't always feel compelled to share his story, but after seeing the impact it had, he began to hold talks at schools, churches, synagogues and more. He shared his story with close to 1,000 live audiences.
Just last week, Wiener visited Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego to share his story. He was joined by Lakeridge freshman Claire Sarnowski and Sen. Rob Wagner, an Oregon state senator and Lake Oswego School Board member, who had been working with Wiener to spread his story and the need for Holocaust education throughout the state. The trio was working on a bill to mandate Holocaust education in Oregon, an idea they presented to the Senate Education Committee in an informal hearing in September.