A sunny fall day greeted around 40 friends and acquaintances who gathered in Sherwood's Snyder Park Sunday to pay tribute to Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener with the dedication of a Rotary Peace Pole, bench and plaque.
"It is so surreal to be there today without our dear friend and champion of all things that are good and beautiful in this world – Alter," said Stephanie West, who along with Paula Schafer, helped coordinate efforts to memorialize Wiener. "I know each of us has a very personal story about the impact Alter had on our lives and the place he holds in each of our hearts.'
Wiener was a well-known speaker on the horrors of the Holocaust, who often recounted the belief in human goodness as well, and spoke a numerous area schools before being struck and killed by a car in Hillsboro in December 2018.
A Sherwood resident, West recounted that she and her older daughter, Gabby, attended one of Wiener's last public speaking engagements, which was at the Sherwood Center for the Arts on Sept. 24, 2016. Gabby was selected to ask Wiener a question and she asked whether he was sad about losing his brothers in the Holocaust?
His response was: "Life is temporary, but love can stay forever."
Those words appear on both the plaque next to the Wiener's bench as well as on the Rotary of Sherwood Peace Pole behind it. The quote on the pole is written in English, Polish and German.
The West family would go on to share a friendship with Wiener that included visiting the Hillsboro resident at his home where they would enjoy smoothie fruit drinks and play the word game Scrabble.
West told those gathered that those who came in contact with Weiner were all touched by his humanity.
"He shared with us so many letters (he has over 80,000) that he has received from students or adults that heard him speak and as a result the individual made a positive change in their life," said West. "There were stories of students not taking for granted their family as they realized Alter lost 123 members of his family during the Holocaust."
During many of his talks, Wiener would recount his belief about human kindness, recalling the German woman, who at great peril to herself, left him a sandwich in the textile mill where Wiener was forced to work, saying "she's my hero until the last day of my life."
Following the end of World War II, Wiener would immigrate to the United States from Poland, eventually penning the book, "64735: From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor's Autobiography."
Schafer, also a Sherwood resident and a teacher at Beaverton's Mountain View Middle School, cut the ribbon on the bench dedicated in Wiener's honor.
She thanked all who helped fund the project, noting that there were even donations that came from out of state.
"As a teacher, he came to speak to my students and share his life story and his journey as a survivor and every year the kids would say that was the most fascinating lesson we have ever learned about and they have just kept a little piece of Alter in their hearts," said Schafer
Recalling their friendship, Schafer said Wiener was very much a teacher to her and the quote she remembers most from his was that, "Without hope, you lose everything."
"So Stephanie and I are beyond grateful for everyone here today and it is our hope that you will come back to the park sit on the bench and hope for a better and brighter tomorrow," said Schafer.
Other speakers at Sunday's event included West's children, Gabby, Livvy and Noah; Dawn Stoddard, a friend of Wiener's; Trudy Ludwig, author of "Gifts from the Enemy" (a children's picture book based on Wiener's book); Keith Mays, Sherwood's mayor; Tim Rosener, immediate past president of the Sherwood Rotary Club and president of the Sherwood City Council; Rep. Janeen Sollman, state representative Oregon House District 30; and Rep. Courtney Neron, state representative for Oregon District 26. The two representatives were instrumental in getting Oregon Senate Bill 664 passed, which mandates that Holocaust education be required in state schools.
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