Hillsboro Holocaust survivor's education bill to become law
Thanks to the hard work of a Hillsboro Holocaust survivor and a Lake Oswego high school student, the Holocaust and genocide education will be mandated in the state of Oregon, starting in 2020 school year.
Senate Bill 664 will require school districts across Oregon to provide instruction about the Holocaust and genocide in social studies classes. It was unanimously passed in a final vote by legislators and approved by Gov. Kate Brown Tuesday, May 28.
The driving force behind the bill is high school freshman Claire Sarnowski, who was inspired by a dear friend, late Holocaust survivor and Hillsboro resident Alter Wiener.
Wiener, who moved to the U.S. in 1960, was 18 when he was liberated from a concentration camp in 1945. An avid publi speaker, Wiener discussed his experiences during the Holocaust at schools and community events for decades and lobbied legislators to make the Holocaust mandatory study in Oregon schools. Wiener was struck and killed by a car in December 2018.
Sarnowski first heard Wiener speak about his story when she was in the fourth grade. It changed her life, she said.
"It was so moving and interesting to me to hear his personal account," she said. "I knew about what happened in the Holocaust, but I didn't truly understand until I got to hear a survivor speak."
Wiener's father was murdered by German invaders when he was 13 years old. Wiener himself was taken to a forced labor camp at 15. He spent time in five different concentration camps. He was one of only two surviving members of his entire extended family.
Sarnowski reached out to state Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, for help in crafting the law. Wiener felt strongly about the importance of Holocaust education, and testified in support of SB 664 in September. He said that through the lessons of the Holocaust, one can learn "how to be more tolerant, more loving, and that hatred eventually turns to destruction."
Lawmakers passed a concurrent resolution earlier this year, memorializing Wiener's life and advocacy.
"Although Alter sadly wasn't here with us, I know he would be proud of today's result. I am honored and proud to be part of this history," Sarnowski said. "This is a huge win, impacting the lives of students across Oregon. It has been beyond exciting getting this legislation across the finish line. It was an unforgettable experience for me."
Wagner, who is chair of the Senate Committee on Education as well as a Lake Oswego School Board member, was the bill's chief sponsor along with Hillsboro state Rep. Janeen Sollman, who was a friend of Wieners.
"As we lose our lived history from that era, it becomes even more important to have Holocaust and genocide education in our classrooms," Sollman testified Tuesday. "This bill is about keeping history alive. This legislation is about ensuring that our students learn about our true history, learn to appreciate and understand our survivors' stories, and continue to tell those stories to prevent such actions again."
By Claire Holley
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