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Girl, 14, Got Oregon to Pass a Holocaust Bill

Along with her dear friend, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 29, 2019 11:34 AM CDT
In this 2001 photo, Alter Wiener, born in 1926, holds up a photo of himself taken in July 1945, two months after he was liberated from a Nazi death camp, in his apartment in Aloha, Ore.   (Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian via AP)

(Newser) – When Claire Sarnowski, as a fourth grader, met Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener at one of his talks, no one could have predicted that their friendship would end up changing the law in Oregon. But it looks like that's exactly what's about to happen: Thanks to work done by Claire, now 14 and a high school freshman, and Wiener, who died in December at age 92, the state House and Senate have both passed a bill requiring public schools to teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides, the Washington Post reports. The state's Democratic governor, Kate Brown, must still sign it into law. As Claire explained to Oregon Public Broadcasting after Wiener's death, it had been his lifelong dream to get such mandatory statewide curriculum standards implemented, and she decided to help him achieve it.

She got in touch with Rob Wagner, a state senator who ended up co-sponsoring the bill, and arranged a meeting between him and Wiener so that Wagner could hear the man's harrowing story—most of his family, including his father, was killed during the Holocaust, and Wiener was imprisoned in five concentration camps. Claire's mom explained to the Lake Oswego Review in September that Oregon didn't previously have mandatory Holocaust education, and the way districts across the state handled it was "all over the place." Ten other states already have laws mandating Holocaust education, per the Statesman Journal. Wiener explained, while testifying at the Capitol 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." (Tragically, Wiener was killed by a car.)

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