Senate Bill 664, which would require school districts across Oregon to provide instruction about the Holocaust and genocide, is currently on the desk of the Speaker of the House after passing unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday. The bill was inspired by Holocaust survivor and Hillsboro resident Alter Wiener, and championed by Lakeridge High freshman Claire Sarnowski.
Wiener himself was not able to see the bill take this major step forward. Tragically, he was struck by a car and killed in Hillsboro Dec. 11. Sarnowski, who was a close friend of Wiener's, is dedicated to carrying on his legacy.
"His dream is well on his way to becoming a reality," Sarnowski said.
SB 664 would mandate Holocaust and genocide education in order to graduate high school in Oregon. This would go into effect in the 2020-21 school year.
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 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.
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."
Sarnowski worked with state Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, for help in crafting the SB 664, as well as Senate Concurrent Resolution 21, which would memorialize the life of Alter Wiener.
Both bills received unanimous support from the Senate Tuesday.
"It definitely is great progress and I'm proud of how far the bill has come," Sarnowski said. "I'm looking forward to where it will go next and am confident it will do well on the House side."
Wagner, who is chair of the Senate Committee on Education as well as a Lake Oswego School Board member, is a chief sponsor of both bills. Representative Janeen Sollman of Hillsboro, who was a friend of Wiener as well as his representative, is also a chief sponsor of SB 664, along with Senators James I. Manning Jr., of Eugene, and Dallas Heard of Roseburg.
Sollman testified on the Senate floor about Wiener's impact.
"I like to remember Alter as an inspirational educator of truth. Alter's determination was to make sure that this part of our history was reflected in our curriculum and taught in our schools, and he would work tirelessly to make this a reality," said Sollman. "Alter's lessons reached all age levels, from the young to the old."
Sollman shared a story from a friend of Wiener's, Stephanie West, who has three young children. The family was touched after hearing Wiener's presentation, and became close friends after.
"Eight-year-old Gabby listened to the powerful presentation, and at the end of the presentation, she had the courage to ask him, 'Are you still sad about your brother who died?'" Sollman read aloud. "Alter's response was so poignant and beautiful: 'Life is temporary, but love can stay forever.'"
SB 664 is currently waiting for referral from Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, and will then be discussed on the House floor. If passed, it will be passed to Governor Kate Brown for approval; Brown has already pledged her support of the bill.
For more information on SB 664, visit www.olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2019R1/Measures/Overview/SB664
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