Wyden gives recognition to Holocaust survivors
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden paid tribute to two Oregon survivors of the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were systematically killed by Nazi Germany during World War II.
Although Wyden's own parents fled Nazi Germany as youths, Wyden has noted that other relatives of his died in the Holocaust.
The Oregon Democrat opened a town hall meeting last week (Aug. 9) at Hazelbrook Middle School in Tualatin by presenting Les and Eva Aigner with a U.S. flag flown over the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and a framed reprint of a Congressional Record statement of their story.
"They not only survived but persevered," he said. "They rebuilt their lives in Portland… They use their survival story to teach all Oregonians about stereotypes and prejudices."
Three months ago, Wyden gave similar recognition at a town hall meeting to Alter Wiener, 90, of Hillsboro.
The Aigners, who live in Portland, are among 100 Holocaust survivors living in Oregon. Les Aigner is 88, and Eva turns 80 this year.
"We are thankful to know that the discrimination and incarceration we suffered then due to religious bias will forever be a reminder that hate and discrimination destroy innocent life," Eva Aigner said after Wyden recognized them.
Les Aigner experienced what Wyden called "unimaginable horrors" while a teenager at the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. Auschwitz is in present-day Poland; Dachau near Munich, Germany, and Aigner was barely 75 pounds when U.S. troops arrived at Dachau on April 29, 1945.
Eva Spiegel was just age 7 when she and a 15-year-old sister were among those rounded up on a cold night in December 1944 on the banks of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary. Their mother, who had escaped a train bound for a concentration camp, rescued them from a mass shooting. Soviet troops took over the city in February 1945.
Les and Eva met in Budapest, married, and eventually made their way to the United States after the failed 1956 Hungarian uprising that was crushed by Soviet troops.
They settled in Portland with his father and stepmother, who also came over.
"Les and I never talked publicly about our experiences for many years," Eva said, not even with their two children. "We wanted to be a normal family."
When his son invited him to a class at Wilson High School in Portland to talk about his experiences, Eva Aigner said, the memories were so disturbing "it was very difficult for him to finish."
But with the advent of Holocaust deniers in the 1980s, she said, "We had to speak out against hate, to make sure the deniers cannot say such things never happened and that such atrocities never happen to human beings ever again."
Their stories are at the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center.
The Aigners have four grandsons and are awaiting their first grandchild.
Wyden's presentation occurred days before white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, Va., ended with the death of a woman and injuries to at least 19 others who were counterprotesting.
His father, Peter Wyden, fled Nazi Germany and came to the United States in 1937 at the age of 14. His mother, Edith Rosenow, also fled in 1936.
They met in New York in 1944 — both joined the Army — married in 1947 and divorced in 1959.
Years later, after a career as a journalist and author, Peter Wyden wrote about a classmate at the Goldschmidt School in Berlin who informed on Jews. His 1993 book was "Stella: One Woman's True Tale of Evil, Betrayal and Survival in Hitler's Germany."
Peter Wyden died in 1998 at the age of 74. Edith died in 2011 at the age of 91.