“One person of integrity can make a difference” is a quote from the late Elie Wiesel who departed this world yesterday at the age of 87. This is a man who had every right to say these words, because in his strength, survival and life, it is nearly impossible to find anyone who made such an enormous difference with strength and integrity of enormous proportions.
We all know the story of the plight of the Jewish people during Hitler’s rule. 6 million Jews were killed in numerous concentration and death camps set up primarily to solve what the Nazis saw as the Jewish problem. The most notorious of all the camps, the camp that symbolized the horrors committed during this time was Auschwitz. One estimate is that 1.1 million of Jewish victims of the Holocaust were murdered in Auschwitz. Although most people who ended up there never left, there was a small percentage that did survive, and although for many the horror was too great to relive, there were those who would tell their story. No one did so with greater skill, honor and integrity than Elie Wiesel.
Ever since his death I have thought a lot about what it was that made Elie Wiesel great. People are often thrust into difficult even horrific circumstances. To survive as a functioning decent member of society is, in itself heroic, but to tell the story and make it a cause is taking that heroism to another level. In 1944 at the age of 15, Wiesel was taken by the Nazis from his home in Romania with his family and deported to the camps in Poland. His mother and a sister were killed in Auschwitz and his father was murdered in Buchenwald a few weeks before its liberation. To be there when that happened, to lose one’s parents and a younger sister in so short of a time would already be enough to destroy anyone’s spirit, not to mention the countless horrors he witnessed during his stay in both Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Rather than let his spirit be crushed, Wiesel came out of this horror of all horrors with a resolve and strength of character unparalleled.
“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 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.”
― Elie Wiesel,
It is my contention that not only do Jews everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Elie Wiesel, but so do good and decent people of all faiths. History books tell the story of the Holocaust, but nothing can ever do so with the power and purpose of someone who was there, experienced humanity in its darkest moments, and in their survival remained committed to letting the world know, all in the hope that somehow it could prevent humanity from ever doing anything like that again. Elie Wiesel did all of that, and he did so with a dignity unfathomable. This man who was almost killed as a teenage boy, went on to live a life that will keep his spirit alive forever.
“For in the end, it is all about memory, its sources and its magnitude, and, of course, its consequences.”
― Elie Wiesel,
I found an ironic symmetry yesterday as Elie Wiesel passed away at 87 just hours before sunset and the beginning of the day on the Jewish calendar commemorating the day in which my father, also a Holocaust survivor also passed away at the age of 87. The education I received from both my parents, both survivors, always made me aware and knowledgeable of what took place during that time that everyone would hope to forget but are obligated to remember. With that in mind I leave you with this one last quote from the great Elie Wiesel of Blessed Memory.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
Rest in Peace Mr. Wiesel and thank you. I will try to never be indifferent.
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