Holocaust education bill becomes law
Thanks to the hard work of a Lakeridge High School freshman and a local Holocaust survivor, Holocaust and genocide education will be mandated in the state of Oregon at the start of the 2020-21 school year.
Senate Bill 664 will require school districts across Oregon to provide instruction about the Holocaust and genocide in social studies classes. It was unanimously passed in a final vote by legislators and approved by Gov. Kate Brown Tuesday, May 28.
The driving force behind the bill is high school freshman Claire Sarnowski, who was inspired by a dear friend, late Holocaust survivor and Hillsboro resident Alter Wiener.
Sarnowski first heard Wiener's story in the fourth grade, and it changed her life. "It was so moving and interesting to me to hear his personal account," she said. "I knew about what happened in the Holocaust, but I didn't truly understand until I got to hear a survivor speak."
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.
Sarnowski was inspired by Wiener and his story of survival and perseverance during the Holocaust, and reached out to state Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, for help in crafting the legislation.
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."
Unfortunately, Wiener was not able to see the bill become law. The 92-year-old was killed Dec.11, 2018 after being struck by a car as he crossed a street in Hillsboro.
17 Conncurrent Resolution 21 was also passed, memorializing the life of Alter Wiener.
"Although Alter sadly wasn't here with us, I know he would be proud of today's result. I am honored and proud to be part of this history," Sarnowski said. "This is a huge win, impacting the lives of students across Oregon. It has been beyond exciting getting this legislation across the finish line. It was an unforgettable experience for me."
Wagner, who is chair of the Senate Committee on Education as well as a Lake Oswego School Board member, is a chief sponsor of SB 664. Rep. Janeen Sollman of Hillsboro, who was a friend of Wiener as well as his representative, is also a chief sponsor, along with senators James I. Manning Jr., of Eugene, and Dallas Heard of Roseburg.
"As we lose our lived history from that era, it becomes even more important to have Holocaust and genocide education in our classrooms. This bill is about keeping history alive," Sollman testified Tuesday. "This legislation is about ensuring that our students learn about our true history, learn to appreciate and understand our survivors' stories, and continue to tell those stories to prevent such actions again."
To read the text of SB 664, go to https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2019R1/Measures/Overview/SB664/.
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