Holocaust Education Now Part of Statewide Curriculum, and a 14-Year-Old LO Student Helped Make It Happen

Oregon schools will be required to teach students about the Holocaust and genocide, following the passage last week of new legislation that is now headed to the desk of Gov. Kate Brown.

Senate Bill 664 adds specific references to the Holocaust and genocide to recently updated social studies standards for high school students. The Oregon Department of Education will provide technical assistance to school districts in implementing the curriculum.

In passing the new standards, Oregon joins 10 other states that require some level of Holocaust and genocide education in classrooms.

The idea for the legislation was first brought forward by Claire Sarnowski, a 14-year-old Lake Oswego student, at the encouragement of Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener. Wiener died in a tragic accident late last year, but not before the two met following one of his presentations at her school and became, in her words, “unlikely” friends.

In testimony before a Senate committee hearing earlier this year, Claire said she was motivated to present the bill after seeing the impact Alter Wiener’s story had on her and her classmates.

She said the measure is needed to help prevent our world from losing its history — and thereby running the risk of repeating mistakes we could have learned from — and also to remind future generations that genocide continues to be a sad reality in some parts of the world.

In a legislative session marked, at times, by sharp partisan disagreements, and which even included a week-long walkout by Senate Republicans in an attempt to thwart passage of House Bill 3427, SB 664 seemed to have universal support. It passed both chambers unanimously.

Photo of the Auschwitz II–Birkenau concentration camp in Brzezinka, Poland.

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