The World has not yet learned enough from the Holocaust but it will do so in time, Holocaust Survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli journalists sitting in the cellar his childhood home in Sighet, Romania by Skype from his current home in New York City, Wiesel said that the world is still grappling with understanding how such a tragedy as the Holocaust could occur in civilized Europe.
Wiesel's talk was part of a ceremony marking the opening of the “Holocaust Cellar,” the first Shoah education center in Romania, which was launched on Sunday in Sighet. The Cellar will be a new feature of the Holocaust museum in Wiesel’s former home, in the courtyard of the old Jewish Ghetto and will serve as a place of study dedicated to the 13,000 local Holocaust victims.
The opening is sponsored jointly by the Romanian government, the City of Sighet, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Romanian Jewish Federation and Limmud FSU.
This is the first in a series of events that will mark 70 years since the expulsion of the last Jews of northern Transylvania to Auschwitz. Among the events this weekend will be a concert memorializing Holocaust victims on Saturday night.
In 1944, two days after Passover, the Jews of Maramures County, in northern Transylvania, were rounded up and forced into 13 ghettos. Eventually, 131,639 Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and most were murdered.
Between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews died during the Holocaust in Romania and the territories under its control. An additional 135,000 Romanian Jews living under Hungarian control in northern Transylvania also perished in the Holocaust, as did some 5,000 Romanian Jews in other countries.
Among those participating in the weekend events will be Romanian Religious Affairs Minister Viktor Opaschi, Deputy Education Minister Irina Cajal, Sighet Mayor Ovidiu Nemesh, Romanian Chief Rabbi Rafael Sheffer and Cantor Yosef Adler, Harry Marcus, head of the Sighet Jewish community, Ben Helfgott, vice president of the Claims Conference and a leader in the British Holocaust survivor community, members of Limmud FSU and prominent journalists.
"Sighet has never left me," Wiesel said, recalling how his parents kept wine in the cellar where his interviewers sat. "Shabbat in Sighet was like no other Shabbat I ever had except Shabbat in Jerusalem." "My memories of Sighet are still near," he continued, adding that he wanted to "bring back the holiness" he remembered from the SIghet of his childhood.
Wiesel also took issue with Israeli author Amos Oz's characterization of Israeli extremists who take part in co-called Price Tag attacks as "Hebrew neo-Nazis," saying that one cannot compare Israelis, even those taking part in objectionable activities, to the Nazis.
"I can never agree with anyone" who says such a thing, he declared. "Nazism was an ideology that wanted to exterminate Israel." Wiesel also reiterated his opposition to American President Barack Obama's negotiations with Iran without a complete dismantling of the Islamic Republic's nuclear infrastructure, recalling a full page advertisement to that effect that he took out last year in the New York Times.
"I appeal to the President...but I can't guarantee success," he told reporters.
Wiesel is perhaps the world’s most famous Holocaust survivor and the author of 57 books. His best-known book, Night, is based on his experiences in the Auschwitz, Buna and Buchenwald camps.
The Nobel Committee, in awarding him the peace prize in 1986, called him a “messenger to mankind,” saying that through his struggle to come to terms with “his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler’s death camps” as well as his “practical work in the cause of peace,” Wiesel had delivered a powerful message “of peace, atonement and human dignity” to humanity.
He and his wife, Marion, established the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity soon after he received the Nobel prize, “to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogues and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality.”