Supporters hope Holocaust education bill heal 'scars of history'
Gov. Kate Brown held a special signing of Oregon's new Holocaust and Genocide Education Bill on Monday, July 15, during a ceremony at the downtown Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.
The bill — spearheaded by the example of the late Alter Wiener, a Holocaust survivor and Hillsboro resident, as well as high school student Claire Sarnowski — requires Oregon school districts to teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides in social studies classes. Instruction starts in the 2020-21 school year.
About 75 supporters gathered at the July 15 ceremony, including Holocaust survivors, Jewish community leaders, State Sen. Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) and Sarnowski, a Lakeridge High School sophomore, who was a driving force behind the legislation.
Sarnowski asked legislators to create the bill after she heard Wiener speak at her school. It was one of more than 1,000 talks Wiener gave about his experiences during the Holocaust.
Wiener died in December 2018 after he was struck by a car in Hillsboro.
A 2018 survey from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 22% of U.S. millennials "haven't heard" or "are not sure if they have heard" of the Holocaust, and 31% of all Americans say 2 million Jews or fewer were killed in the Holocaust. In fact, about 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, along with millions of others — including developmentally disabled people and homosexuals.
Oregon is the 11th state to require some form of Holocaust education.
Brown said the bill should help students learn about "the scars of history."
"Knowledge is power." Brown said. "There is a growing culture of hate and discrimination in America right now. We must stomp it out. And we have to do that together. No one should feel afraid to attend their places of worship or fear stepping outside of their house because of who they love, how they identify, or the color of their skin. Learning about the Holocaust and genocide will give our young people the tools that they need to not only identify these threats, but also the knowledge to fight back in the face of hate."
Holocaust survivor Eva Aigner told the group that she and others would continue to speak about the horrors of the Holocaust.
"The survivors, along with the second-generation speakers, have literally reached hundreds of thousands of students and other audiences, because we understood the importance of teaching the consequences of hate," she said. "Each of us has to be an example for children and grandchildren, about accepting each other's differences like race, religion and nationalities."
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