Two Sherwood residents spearhead drive for Alter Wiener memorial bench, plaque
So powerful was the message of Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener, and so beloved was he as a person, that Sherwood residents Stephanie West and Paula Schafer are raising funds to construct a bench, peace pole and plaque in Snyder Park as a lasting tribute.
Wiener, a prolific speaker on the horrors of the Nazi Germany concentration camps, lost his life last winter after being struck by a car in Hillsboro where he lived.
"Alter was an intrinsic part of our community and he was very well-connected," said West.
Schafer had known Wiener for a decade, bringing him to speak to her humanities classes at Mountain View Middle School in Beaverton where she teaches.
Schafer said she tracked Wiener down to speak at her school beginning a friendship that would continue until he died.
West and her children Gabby, 11; Livvy, 8; and Noah, 4, were friends with Wiener as well, something that began when they saw him speak during a Sherwood Center for the Arts appearance in 2016.
When Wiener, who lost 123 members of his extended family in the Holocaust, was finished speaking, Gabby got to ask him a question.
"I asked if he missed his brother who died in the Holocaust," recalled Gabby. "And he said, 'life is temporary but love is forever.'"
Both West and Schafer plan to have that very message of hope inscribed on a plaque adjacent to the bench, along with a portrait of Wiener. The message will appear in Polish, German, Russian and English.
Wiener was 13 when his father was murdered by Nazis. At age 15, Wiener was taken to a forced labor camp. He spent time in five different concentration camps before being liberated in 1945.
West said when Wiener had finished his Sherwood Center for the Arts presentation, she brought her children up to talk with him, something that would start a "beautiful friendship." From that point on, the Wests would meet Wiener at his apartment several times a month, sharing both stories and fruit smoothies.
Wiener's Sherwood Center for the Arts appearance would be a milestone as well because a short time later, Wiener announced it would be his last public presentation due to his advancing age and health issues.
That left lots of students in Schafer's humanities classes disappointed not to hear personally from the man who had spoken to almost 1,000 audiences throughout his lifetime.
"I have to say the Holocaust unit and incorporating Alter's story is the highlight of the year," said Schafer. "I think the main thing I got from Alter was his humanity and to respect people of all backgrounds."
Now she has to refer students to videos and YouTube clips featuring Wiener, who wrote "64735: From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor's Autobiography." Self-published in 2006, the book had sold 35,000 copies by 2016. Schafer said education was important to Wiener who would tell her students to use their time wisely and to love their families.
"He really was a teacher in so many ways, (teaching) about life and how to treat people," Schafer said.
Meanwhile, West said after getting support from Sherwood Mayor Keith Mays, all three of her children attended a January Sherwood City Council meeting where they told the council of their plans for the memorial bench.
So far, the City of Sherwood has said it will provide a $1,000 Community Enhancement Grant for the bench project. Now, both Schafer and West are hoping to collect another $1,500 to fund the remaining costs of the project. Hopes are to have everything ready to go by September.
Anyone wishing to make donations for the bench, a Sherwood Rotary peace pole and a memorial plaque can do so through any U.S. Bank in the name of the Alter Weiner Foundation.
Both West and Schafer were at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education when Gov. Kate Brown signed Oregon's Holocuast and Genocide Education Bill into law on July 15. Gabby, Livvy and Noah also testified earlier during an Oregon Senate Education Committee meeting in support of the bill.
"That was really, really exciting when that bill passed," said Livvy.
For now, the Wests just want to honor a man they thought very highly of.
"He loved these kids so beautifully," said West.
West said several locations are being considered for the Snyder Park bench, plaque and peace pole.
"We hope it will be an oasis, a peaceful spot for people to come to think about Alter," said West.
Although he's gone, Schafer said she'll make sure his memory lives on.
"As long as I am teaching, I will continue to share Alter's incredible story with my students. We will never forget."
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