US President Barack Obama hugs Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel as Wiesel introduced him to speak at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, April 23, 2012. .
(photo credit: REUTERS/JASON REED)
Thirty years ago, I traveled to Auschwitz with Elie Wiesel. I had been to the camp before. I had seen the barbed wire, the barracks, the guard towers.
But to experience Auschwitz through Elie’s eyes changed everything for me. It changed the way I think, and it lit a flame in me that burns to this day.
Elie once observed that the survivors of the Shoah “had the right to give up on humanity.”
But Elie refused to give up. When I joined him at Auschwitz, I found a man not filled with hate, but with sadness and determination. Sadness over all those who were lost, and determination to honor their memory with action and impact.
We talked about the meaning of the Holocaust, and he said something that I will never forget: “The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference.”
Indifference is what led the world to sit idly while anti-Semitism in Germany marched on. Indifference made the Holocaust possible.
So Elie made a commitment: he would never be indifferent to suffering. Through his writing, his activism, and through the sheer force of his moral voice, he focused his considerable energies on fighting injustice and evil.
He helped bring the world’s attention to the plight of persecuted people in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Along with his beloved wife, Marion, he founded the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, and he helped lead the effort to create the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
He was a teacher. He not only taught us about the evils of Auschwitz, but about Judaism, about the cause of Zionism, and about the State of Israel, a land he revered and loved.
He was a writer of uncommon talent. His prose – graceful yet haunting, simple yet forceful – awakened the world to the dangers of indifference.
He used his mighty pen to inspire generations.
I am one of those people he inspired. Because of Elie, because of what I learned that day with him in Auschwitz, I resolved to speak out whenever I see injustice.
He gave me the courage to speak out on behalf of world Jewry. He inspired me to stand up for Israel, its people, its rights, its security. Everything I do today is because of the example Elie set for me, and for the world.
Elie may have left us, but his memory lives on.
As his son Elisha eloquently put it at Elie’s funeral service, I still feel his presence inside my heart.
We still hear his gentle voice, telling us what he would say to anyone who would listen: that people of good conscience have a moral obligation to speak out, be heard and fight bigotry.