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Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener honored by Senate

Larger honor will come if Legislature passes measure mandating teaching of Holocaust.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE - Alter WienerIt's not uncommon for the Oregon Legislative Assembly to honor prominent Oregonians who have died.

This week, Alter Wiener was one of them. The Oregon Senate unanimously approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 21, offered by state Sens. Rob Wagner and Dallas Heard, to recognize Wiener, a Hillsboro resident who was struck and killed by a car last December.

But Wiener received another honor as well — the fulfillment, in some respects, of his life's work.

Wiener was born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1926. His entire immediate family perished after Nazi Germany invaded Poland and began the Holocaust, a systematic program of extermination that targeted Jews, Slavs, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, and other groups. Wiener survived long enough to be liberated from the Waldenburg concentration camp in the final weeks of World War II.

In his later life, Wiener — who emigrated to the United States after the war and eventually moved to Oregon — found a calling as an educator. At the time of his death, he was working with Wagner and a Lake Oswego student to advocate for Holocaust and genocide studies to become part of Oregon's public school curriculum.

Minutes after approving the resolution to honor Wiener's life, the Senate voted 27-0 in favor of Senate Bill 664. If the bill becomes law, it will mandate that public schools teach students age-appropriate lessons about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide, including their historical context and relevance in today's world, starting in the 2020-21 school year.

"We know that we are losing our history," Wagner said. "The Greatest Generation of Americans, as they've been called — the 16 million individuals who fought for the United States in World War II, our veterans with direct memory of that era, less than 5 percent are with us today. And as we lose that lived history … we're in danger of losing the stories, and actually losing the education that's embedded in those stories."

After its unanimous passage Tuesday in the Senate, HB 664 heads to the House for approval.