I remember reading Night, by Elie Wiesel, when I was about 12 years old. At such a young age, it’s hard to comprehend what Wiesel, a Jew born in Romania, was talking about and what he had experienced when he was just a little older than me. He was not only talking about his experience, about the incredible inhumanity people are capable of, and about one of the most infamous pieces of European history; he detailed human endurance and advocated peace. He used his experiences for the greater good- to educate and fight for human rights. He made me think about humanity in a different way and to recognize how terrible and how wonderful we are.
Wiesel’s words are powerful. While he rose to fame for his detailed account of surviving the Holocaust and insight into human capacity for violence in The Night Trilogy, he was also author of over fifty pieces of literature. In 1986, Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. When awarded, the Norwegian Nobel Committee stated: “Wiesel is a messenger to mankind; 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.”
Many remember Wiesel as giving a voice to those who perished. In a statement, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C, which Wiesel helped establish as the chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust, wrote: “Through his singular moral leadership, intellect, and eloquence, he gave voice to those who had been silenced forever and devoted his life to fulfilling the promise of ‘never again’ for all future victims of genocide.”
In remembering his father, Elisha Wiesel stated, “My father raised his voice to presidents and prime ministers when he felt issues on the world stage demanded action… But those who knew him in private life had the pleasure of experiencing a gentle and devout man who was always interested in others, and whose quiet voice moved them to better themselves.”
Wiesel, who was 87 at the time of his death, was remember on Sunday, July 3rd, at a private service in a Manhattan synagogue. His death is heartbreaking, but he took his life as an opportunity to spread good to the world. Wiesel constantly reiterated the importance of speaking out and the dangers of indifference.
We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
-from Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1986
His words and beliefs are as true today as they were right after World War II.
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