Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel remembered for role as world's conscience

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gary Cameron, Reuters


NEW YORK (CNS) — Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, Nobel
Peace Prize recipient and prolific author who died July 2 at age 87 in his New
York home, has been remembered in tributes from around the world for standing
up for human dignity and for being a witness to the world of the atrocities of
the Holocaust.

When Pope Francis received the Charlemagne Prize May 6 for
promoting European unity, he quoted Wiesel urging Europeans to undergo a
“memory transfusion,” to remember their fractured past when
confronting issues that threaten again to divide it.

In its July 4 edition, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican
newspaper, said Wiesel’s legacy was his “appeal for collective
responsibility in the face of horror and his call to unite the abilities of
each person in pursuit of what is good.”

That sentiment has been echoed by many.

President Barack Obama described Wiesel as “one of the
great moral voices of our time, and in many ways, the conscience of the

And Vice President Joe Biden said Wiesel taught him “to
understand the incomparable resilience of the human spirit — our capacity to
overcome virtually anything.”

He said his friend Wiesel “had seen the depths of the
darkness that we are capable of inflicting on one another” and his belief
in the “the fundamental goodness of humanity,” despite this
knowledge, was all the more inspiring.

When Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the
citation said he was a “messenger to mankind,” whose “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.”

He accepted the award with a stern call that all who witness
suffering and humiliation must take sides. “Neutrality helps the
oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the
tormented,” he said.

Wiesel is most known for “Night,” his
autobiographical account of the horrors he witnessed in concentration camps as
a teenager. It was published in 1960.

When he was 15, the Nazis sent him and his family to
Auschwitz. His mother and his younger sister perished there. His two older
sisters survived. He and his father were later transported to Buchenwald, where
his father died.

“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,” Wiesel wrote. The small volume, just over 100 pages,
was initially something publishers were not sure would sell and is now required
reading for many U.S. students.

The Catholic French author Francois Mauriac encouraged
Wiesel to write the book, breaking his silence about his experience. The work
not only is an account of what happened but a reflection on faith and God’s
presence amid unspeakable horrors.

Wiesel was born Sept. 30, 1928, in Sighet, a small village
in Romania. In 1963 he became a U.S. citizen, and six years later he married
Marion Rose, a fellow Holocaust survivor who translated some of his books into
English. The couple had one son, Shlomo.

In 1978, he was chosen by President Jimmy Carter to head the
President’s Commission on the Holocaust to plan an American memorial museum to
Holocaust victims. In 1993, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington
opened with Wiesel’s words carved in stone at its entrance: “For the dead
and the living, we must bear witness.”

Wiesel was not only involved with the museum and with
writing but he also taught college courses at Yale University, Boston
University and the City University of New York.

When the U.S. Holocaust Museum opened Jewish and Catholic
leaders said it not only recounts the deaths of millions of victims of World
War II, but it presents a lesson for all people.

“It tells a crucial story, summing up the underside of
the 20th century,” said Eugene J. Fisher, who was the associate director of
the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National
Conference of Catholic Bishops.

At its opening, he said the new museum’s role was “extremely
important” in “helping all Christians remember what can happen if we’re
not extremely vigilant.”


– – –

Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Original Article