Pedestrian struck, killed in Hillsboro a 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 from the HPD 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 HPD spokesman Eric Bunday.
Wiener, who was 92 years old, was wearing dark clothing as he was struck by a southbound Honda Accord, Bunday said.
"Dad was struck by a car at high velocity and was killed instantly; the medical examiner assured us he felt no pain," Wiener's son Ron posted on his father's Facebook page. "He was heading to the grocery store, was dressed in dark clothes on a dark, rainy night, and crossed in the middle of the street. The driver simply did not see him."
The 50-year-old driver of the Honda Accord remained at the scene of the crash and cooperated with investigators. He will not face any charges or citations, according to Bunday.
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."
Bunday said, "He was well-known in the Hillsboro community for sharing his life experiences during library lectures."
Wiener's father was murdered by German invaders when he was only 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.
Wiener moved to New York City, earned a high school diploma at age 35, went on to college, got married and started a family. He moved to Hillsboro in 2000.
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 audiences.
Earlier this month, Wiener visited Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego to share his story. He was joined by Lakeridge freshman Claire Sarnowski and 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.
Wagner was originally introduced to Wiener through Sarnowski and her mother, Wagner said. The two had encouraged Wagner to read Wiener's book, he said.
"I sat down and had a wonderful conversation with them, took Alter's book home, read it and said 'I've got to meet this person — too phenomenal,'" Wagner said. "And so I started going out to Hillsboro, and Alter would always make me fruit smoothies, and it would have pears and blueberries and mango and then he always said, 'And the secret ingredient is love.' We would sit there and eat smoothies, and he would tell me about his life, and he would talk about things that were so important, and all of the community presentations he had given."
Wagner then began conducting research on Holocaust and genocide education across the country, he said.
"And I said, 'Let's move forward on seeing if we can get a requirement for our public education — our schools across the state,'" Wagner said. "We started to build out the concept, and in the September legislative days, Alter came down and testified with me and Claire."
Wagner said he was in complete shock and devastated to hear the news of Wiener's sudden passing, but that he and Sarnowski will continue working on the draft bill — something Wiener was passionate abut.
"I think what we have determined is that there is even more resolve now (to do it), and I think that to Alter, it was always bigger than his own story. He always made it bigger than his own story," Wagner said. "It was always about connecting with youth in why this was so important ... because it's tied to things that he individually saw, letters that he received from students over the years."
Wiener told Wagner that he received many letters throughout the years from students after his speeches about how his story impacted their life — and in some cases, saved it — which inspired him to keep sharing, Wagner said.
Other friends and family of Wiener also reacted to his sudden death.
"At 92 and with so many ailments, we did not expect Dad to be immortal but are still reeling from the shock of the way that he did leave this Earth," Wiener's son wrote on Facebook. "His reputation in the community preceded him; the officers who called me from the Hillsboro PD were very compassionate and one even commented, 'It's hard to believe he survived the concentration camps only to die in this way.'"
Following the news of Wiener's death, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden posted a tribute to his official Twitter account Wednesday morning.
"Devastated to learn about the passing of my friend Alter Wiener — a true Oregonian & total mensch who transformed his Holocaust survival into a lesson that taught all of us about the need to fight prejudice always & everywhere," Wyden wrote.
Wyden first met Wiener several years ago at a town hall meeting in Oregon City. He honored the Holocaust survivor during a congressional record statement in April 2017.
"I want to take a few minutes today to honor Alter Wiener, a selfless Oregonian who endured the horrors of the Holocaust and has shared his powerful story with countless students and adults," Wyden said in the tribute speech last year. "I would like to share his story with the Senate so that my colleagues can hear how he survived the Nazi atrocities and came to live in Hillsboro, Oregon, teaching young men and women in my home state the dangers of intolerance and exclusion."
When the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center asked him to share his story after he moved to Hillsboro, Wiener was hesitant, he said. But he ultimately agreed to speak at Century High School in Hillsboro, a speaking engagement that ended up being the first of many.
"To his surprise, Mr. Wiener received hundreds of letters from students thanking him for changing their lives," Wyden said. "Every time he shares his story, more people understand the horrors of Nazi persecution and the inhumanity of the Holocaust. People also understand the importance of tolerance, pluralism, and inclusion, and they see the power of the human spirit to endure."
Friends and family gathered for a celebration of Wiener's life on Friday morning, Dec. 14, at Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland after a graveside service at Ahavai Shalom Cemetery.
By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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