Holocaust Survivor Inspires PAA
Portland Adventist Academy (PAA) students, staff and parents had the privilege to hear and meet Alter Wiener, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor and author of From a Name to a Number, in a chapel service.
You could hear a pin drop in chapel that day, which is unusual in a bustling, energetic crowd of young people. Students were spellbound as they connected with the story of a young teenager who had to experience an evil and powerful movement. Through Weiner’s story, PAA students realized the gifts of education, family, freedom and forgiveness.
Weiner recalled the beginning shame of the movement. Jews were forced to wear badges that labeled their religion and race. Nazis eventually forced Jews into ghettos and didn’t even allow them to go to their synagogues. Weiner was devastated when they took school away from students. At just 13 years old, he knew that by taking away his education they were destroying his future and the progress of millions of young people. But that was just the first of many horrific experiences in his young life, including the murder of his father, the separation from his family and the eventual discovery of their demise.
Wiener was taken to the first concentration camp when he was just 15 years old and continued to live the next many years in inhumane conditions. Right away, he began seeing that Jews weren’t the only people being oppressed. “There were people of color, Gypsies, pastors, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he said. “I realized then that while every Jew was a victim, not every victim was a Jew.”
Weiner faced several near-death moments. Each of them was countered with intervening miracles that spared his life. Near the end of the war, a German woman risked her life to bring Weiner a sandwich every day. “She didn’t care that she might have been put to death,” he explained. “She was a stranger and someone I would have thought an enemy. But she was a friend who saved my life.”
Alter Weiner was liberated at 19 years old weighing only 80 pounds. He had no living family members. “Wiener said he spent his first few nights back in Chrzanow sleeping on his father’s grave. It was there, while seething with anger at his lost youth and family, that he decided to be ‘better not bitter’” (The Daily World, Oct. 12, 2009).
Doctors told Weiner he may only live two years because of his terrible condition. But more miracles came to him. Kind people took him in and slowly restored his strength. He later married, moved to the United States, eventually earned his high school diploma and went on to college in the 1960s.
In recent years friends and strangers encouraged Weiner to write his story and begin sharing publicly. He courageously began the sharing. He finished his autobiography, From a Name to a Number and, at 85 years old, he speaks publicly about tolerance, hope, faith and forgiveness.