Public schools in Oregon will be required to teach students about the Holocaust and the concept of genocide, born from a meeting between two unlikely partners.
The state’s House passed a bill Thursday that will requires schools to begin
providing this instruction in the 2020-2021 school year, if it is signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown (D). The Senate passed the measure in March.
The text stipulates that instruction must be designed to “prepare students to confront the immorality of the Holocaust, genocide, and other acts of mass violence and to reflect on the causes of related historical events.” It also must help students respect the importance of cultural diversity and gain insight into the importance of international human rights.
The bill is the result of the work of Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener, who died in December at 92, and high school freshman Claire Sarnowski. Sarnowski first encountered Wiener about four years ago when she went to one of his talks as a fourth-grader, according to the Lake Oswego Review.
Wiener, who was born in Poland, was imprisoned in five different concentration camps during the Holocaust. Most of his family was killed, including his father. Wiener weighed 80 pounds when he was liberated in 1945.
He moved to the United States after the war; to New York first, and then, in 2000, to Oregon, where he began to speak about his life, and wrote a book called “From A Name To A Number: A Holocaust Survivor’s Autobiography.”
Claire and Wiener became friends after the talk; the student and her mother had visited him at his house.
“It was almost like we were old friends every time we talked,” Claire told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “The age difference was never something we looked at.”
Claire told the outlet that it was Wiener’s lifelong dream to implement mandatory curriculum standards for teaching students about the Holocaust, so she reached out to a state senator, Rob Wagner.
Wagner went on to co-sponsor the bill, telling the Lake Oswego Reviewthat the idea for the legislation had come to him from Claire, who arranged a meeting between him and Wiener.
“I remember looking at my kids, after many of the incidents of racism and anti-Semitism in Lake Oswego and thinking, ‘We need to prioritize a culture change,'” Wagner told the Review.
Wiener and Claire both testified at a hearing for the bill in September.
“Learning about the Holocaust is not just a chapter in recent history, but a derived lesson how to be more tolerant, more loving and that hatred is, eventually, self-destructive,” Wiener told lawmakers at the time. “Remember, be better, rather than bitter.”
The legislation is part of a larger discussion about the importance of remembering the Holocaust, in which about 6 million Jews were killed, as the generation that lived through it dwindles, to prevent future genocides.
Ten states have enacted similar legislation for schools, according to news reports: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.