Remembering Elie Wiesel: Human rights activist, and Holocaust survivor
“… to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all …”
Those famous words give us insight into the life’s mission of an incredible man!
Born in Romania in 1928; Elie Wiesel was only 15 years old when his family was taken to Auschwitz by the Nazis. Separated from his mother and sisters, his life would never be the same again!
By the time he was liberated by the US 3rd Army in 1945 he had lost his mother, his father, and youngest sister to the horrors of the concentration camps.
He wrote in his acclaimed memoir The Night:
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
Wiesel would go on to be an integral part of ensuring the world would never forget the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during the Holocaust. He reminded the world, as an eyewitness of the horrors of the Nazi death camps, that we must never turn a blind eye to the plight of the innocent, to the cause of the helpless! Using his own words from his 2002 Days of Remembrance address we are reminded how:
“We must remember, we must remember the times of cruelty and suffering when in the darkest of all places, in man’s world, day after day, hour after hour, the killers killed, the victims perished.
We must remember the old men and women whispering ancient prayers, and the children, we must always remember the children, frightened and forlorn, all part of a nocturnal procession walking towards the flames, rising to the highest heavens. Among those children there were future scientists, physicians, scholars, statesmen, writers, poets, philanthropists. One of them might have invented a cure for AIDS, or composed a text of such humanity that all the racists would be silenced to shame. In murdering them, the killers deprived the human family of its future. One and a half million Jewish children.”
Wiesel’s’ passion for ensuring that the memory of the victims was carried on in our collective minds lead to his being selected in 1978, by then US president Jimmy Carter, to head the President’s Commission on the Holocaust.
In 1980, he became the Founding Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, and later became the President of The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, an organization he and his wife created to fight indifference, intolerance and injustice.
He said in an interview with Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times in 1981:
“If I survived, it must be for some reason, I must do something with my life. It is too serious to play games with anymore, because in my place, someone else could have been saved. And so I speak for that person. On the other hand, I know I cannot.”
In 1986 Wiesel won the Nobel peace prize. It was not the only recognition he would receive for his years of labor, championing for human rights, his concern for the victims of genocide did not stop with the victims of the Holocaust. He defended the cause of Soviet Jews, Nicaragua’s Miskito Indians, Argentina’s Desaparecidos, Cambodian refugees, the Kurds, victims of famine and genocide in Africa, of apartheid in South Africa, and victims of war in the former Yugoslavia.
“Wiesel is a messenger to mankind,” the Nobel citation said. “His message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief.”
Wiesel authored over 60 books, fiction and non-fiction and held positions teaching at many respected universities including being the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University since 1976. He was also a member of the Faculty in the Department of Religion as well as the Department of Philosophy.
He served as Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City University of New York (1972-76) and the first Henry Luce Visiting Scholar in Humanities and Social Thought at Yale University (1982-83).
His story is one of a man who in spite of, or maybe because of, his experiences went on to change the world.
To help us to remember that we cannot stand idly by as innocents are slaughtered, and that even though mankind can be the cause of despicable horror, it is also within us all to be the antidote. I’ll let his own words be the ones that preach this message:
“What was courage then?
You hear me say occasionally that there must be light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that in those times there was light IN the tunnel. In a strange way there was courage IN the ghetto. And there was hope, human hope, IN the death camp. Simply an anonymous prisoner giving a piece of his bread to someone who was hungrier than he or she, a father shielding his child, a mother trying to hold back her tears so her children would not see her pain. That was courage.
But is there hope? Is there hope in memory? There must be. Without hope memory would be morbid and sterile. Without memory, hope would be empty of meaning, and above all, empty of gratitude”.
* Arthur Cleroux is an INFJ and a bit of an idealist, with a logical and rational preference in his approach to politics and political issues. He considers himself slightly right of center when it comes to the political road map. He recognizes that there are nuances in every position and realize that there is no such thing as a perfect world, though we can still strive to make it a reality. He does, however, feel very strongly about the way the world is going these days, and how liberty is being replaced, more often than not, by a mandated party line that must be adhered to. He would like to help put a stop to that and be a part of setting up a world for his children where liberty is the basis of our thought process, and individuality and liberty are cherished rather than ostracized as outdated concepts.