PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – Teachers from across Oregon attended a Holocaust and Genocide Education Symposium at Oregon State University’s Portland Center Thursday in an effort to develop curriculum on the Holocaust and genocide, which is now required by state law.
The legislation passed earlier this year will require school districts to teach Holocaust and genocide education starting in 2020.
The effort to get the legislation off the ground started from a very special bond between a Holocaust survivor and a Lakeridge High School student. Claire Sarnowski and 92-year-old Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener had an unlikely friendship. Wiener was hit by a car and died last year, but Sarnowski pledged to continue what they’d started.
Thursday’s symposium gave teachers more tools and ideas on how to teach about the Holocaust and other genocides. Teachers say they understand the responsibility they have in teaching some disturbing moments in history.
“A lot of these kids haven’t heard about the Holocaust, haven’t had that conversation with their families, so we become the first point of contact,” Kelly Fitzsimmons, a teacher at Lake Oswego Junior High, said.
“Perhaps surprisingly, we always get a little parent pushback about teaching hard concepts, hard history like the Holocaust,” Camille Selby, another teacher at Lake Oswego Junior High, said. “And so, I'm glad to now have legislation to back it up and be like, we're actually required in the best way possible to teach these topics.”
Some teachers at the symposium said they’ve never taught the Holocaust.
“I met so many Holocaust survivors over my time and I felt it’s really important, because many of them are starting to become of age where they’re dying off and their stories are being forgotten,” George Frost, a teacher at Willamette Leadership Academy, said.
FOX 12 caught up with Sarnowski as she continues her lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C.
“If there was anything that I could let Alter know, I would definitely tell him that his dream came true and his story is still alive in the hearts of many,” Sarnowski said.
Sarnowski was 9-years-old when she met Wiener, who was in his 80s at the time. Sarnowski will be honored by the Anti-Defamation League in November at the Kennedy Center for her efforts in the legislation.
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