Sunday, July 3, 2016

Farewell Elie Wiesel - Your Words Still Speak

My heart broke at the news yesterday...

Elie Wiesel, writer, professor and human rights activist, passed away yesterday, at the age of 87.

I don't remember when I was first introduced to Elie, but I do remember seeing him interviewed on The Oprah Winfrey Show. I also remember watching footage of his tour of the concentration camp he had endured and survived at the young age of 15. I still remember the pain in his eyes.

I also remember reading his book Night for the first time.

I wept every night as I turned the pages of Elie's retelling of his young life as a young Jewish boy. His sister and mother were killed upon arrival to Auschwitz concentration camp. After being transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp alongside his father, Elie watched his captors beat his father mercilessly. He also watched his father die before his eyes, his spirit nearly destroyed by the helplessness and shame he felt.

His father died only weeks before Buchenwald was liberated.

Night ruined me. I couldn't fathom the horrors that so many faced during that period in history. I couldn't understand how human beings could mistreat other human beings so. I wanted justice for the bodies and souls lost during the Holocaust. I was furious.

And then I read the rest of the story...

After Elie survived the concentration camps and the horrors and pain that accompanied them, after he survived the deaths of his mother, father and sister, after he survived being orphaned following the Holocaust, with no parents or living relatives to care for him -- he made a conscious choice.

He chose to live.

Elie Wiesel chose to tell his story. He chose to teach others. He chose to forgive. He chose to love.

And he chose to fight for justice for other people around the world. He became a voice for those who had no voice.

So much so, that in 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for raising his voice against violence, repression and racism.

When awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Elie shared some powerful and memorable words. In this excerpt, he speaks of the teenage boy that he was, the boy that emerged from the pain of those concentration camps:
"I remember: he asked his father: 'Can this be true?' This is the 20th Century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent? And now the boy is turning to me: 'Tell me,' he asks. 'What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?' And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices. And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent."
He went on to say...
"And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always 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 or women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe."
Many years ago, Elie Wiesel encouraged me to take sides. To interfere. To make the place where other people are being persecuted or forgotten - to make that place, right then, the center of the universe.

What side should I take today? Where should I interfere? Where should I go to aid the persecuted and forgotten?

This is a question I ask myself today, in honor and memory of my hero and friend, Elie Wiesel.

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