Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Like many across the globe, I mourn the death of Elie Wiesel, the man who could explain the unexplainable, who touched the hearts of millions by his wisdom and sensitivity.
During the 1980s I met Wiesel in my capacity as one of the founders and later chairperson of “The Second Generation to the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance” Organization in Israel. Wiesel took keen interest in our work and encouraged us to undertake what he considered a sacred mission to educate Israeli youth about the horrors of the Holocaust. Wiesel was a compassionate supporter of the State of Israel who loved the country and its people with all his heart. He involved himself with all possible issues that concerned the Holocaust.
There was certain sadness about him. Even when Elie smiled, there was also with a touch of sadness; he was carrying in his mind the constant memories of his personal loss, and what he experienced during those dark days of humanity, when he was forced to live in the basement of civilization.
He had a sharp mind, and a gifted pen. He was an excellent and passionate orator.
When Wiesel spoke, people listened. This is when his quiet charisma would erupt, and he would captivate large audiences with his penetrating voice. Sad and compassionate, this is how I remember Elie Wiesel.
Wiesel dedicated his life to telling the story of the Holocaust so that people would understand what happened there, so that they would remember, so that such atrocities will not reoccur. And when genocides happened in the world, in Bosnia, in Cambodia, in Rwanda, in Darfur, Wiesel was there to denounce, to raise awareness, to garner public opinion in order to exert pressure on influential decision-makers to put a stop to genocide. Wiesel was a relentless proponent of life, living in the large, overwhelming shadow of death.
He wrote more than 60 books, starting with Night, a memoir based on his experiences in the death camps.
Wiesel wrote: “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 the 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.”
“For the survivor who chooses to testify,” Wiesel said, “it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in speaking out against violence, repression and racism.
“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.”
When accepting it, he said: “Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Elie Wiesel, a warm, compassionate human rights activist. The world needs many people like you to stand against evil. May your soul rest in peace that you so deserve. I will miss you.The author is director of research of the Middle East Study Group and Director at the School of Politics, Philosophy and International Studies, The University of Hull.