"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." ~ Elie Wiesel
By definition, a holocaust is a great or complete destruction or devastation. But really, these words or any words will never adequately define or describe the Holocaust of the Twentieth Century. Yes, there was a vast destruction and devastation: of lives, of spirits, of safety, of innocence, of happiness, of rights, of hope. Yet there was more; one look at the many images of the Holocaust and this becomes evident. There were indescribable evils that innocent people witnessed. The Holocaust will go down as a crime against humanity that can never be erased. We know the truths of these evil times only from those who bore witness. Among those witnesses brave enough to publicly share their experiences is Elie Wiesel. Elie Wiesel exemplifies a true hero in today’s society. He not only used extreme courage to survive the Holocaust, but has since used his experiences to raise awareness and to ensure that future generations will not endure such atrocities. He has voiced a story that needed to be told, fought for human rights everywhere, and inspired others to do the same, even when it’s difficult.
Born on September 30, 1928, in the Romanian village of Sighet, Elie Wiesel has inspired many as a Holocaust survivor, author, and humanitarian. During his childhood, he was shy and studious, a strong believer in the Jewish faith. He had three sisters, two older and one younger. Only a teenager in 1944, he and his family were captured by Nazis. During the Holocaust, his stays included Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Buchenwald. Liberation finally freed him in April of 1945. In only a year’s time he had lost his mother, father, and younger sister.
After liberation, he attended school in Paris, where afterward he pursued a career in journalism. It wasn’t until 1954 he mustered enough strength to write about his experiences. He wrote and published his first book in Yiddish. He then presented an eight hundred page manuscript to a French publisher, but it was rejected. After major revisions, the book La Nuit was published in France, and in 1960, it was published in the United States as Night. After Night’s success, Wiesel gave up journalism for a full-time career as an author. He married Marion Ester Rose, a fellow Holocaust survivor, in 1969. Since then, he has written numerous other books and has become an activist for human rights everywhere, leading up to him winning the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.
Though writing has sometimes become near impossible for him, Wiesel records his experiences in order to tell a story he feels has to be told. In regard to his memoir, All Rivers Run to the Sea, Wiesel said: "In this book I felt I had to speak,…It was not easy. Sometimes I literally wrote with tears in my eyes. I had to stop, but I refused to stop" (Wiesel, Elie (1928-)).
After the terrible events of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel probably never even wanted to think about his experiences again, let alone write an account in full detail, but he felt he had a duty to do so. Though at times it can be extremely difficult for him, he pushes on and continues writing. He never gives up, even when writing about those things hardest for him to think about. In the newest preface to Night, he says this in regard to his writing:
… having survived, I needed to give some meaning to my survival… In retrospect I must confess that I do not know… what I wanted to achieve with my words. I only know that without this testimony, my life as a writer- or my life, period- would not have become what it is: that of a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing its crimes to be erased from human memory (Wiesel viii).
Believing he is lucky to be alive, Wiesel feels he has a duty to tell the horrible stories of the Holocaust for those who were not as fortunate. He wants to make sure no one will forget the evils of the Holocaust his people faced.
After the pain Wiesel has gone through, he knows he can never let anyone be deprived of their rights like that again, and has since dedicated himself to fighting for those all around the world with restricted rights. “Believing that he survived Auschwitz by chance, Wiesel felt duty-bound to give his survival meaning and justify each moment of his life… He has led the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and protested on behalf of oppressed people everywhere- Soviet Jews as well as groups in Cambodia, Biafra, Bangladesh, Latin America, and the Middle East, among others. In addition, he has organized international symposia on human relations, taught throughout the world, and interceded with world leaders for the sake of human rights” (Wiesel Is Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, December 10, 1986). Wiesel not only helps those affected by the Holocaust, he applies the pain he remembers feeling to all people, and sympathizes with them too. He tries to aid people all around the world who are deprived of their rights. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Wiesel says this on how we must always help those in need:
I have tried to keep that memory alive [of the Holocaust], that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are the accomplices… And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation… When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must- at that moment- become the center of the universe (Wiesel 118).
Wiesel believes remembering and commemorating is not enough. We must not only remember the Holocaust, but help people in similar situations around the world today. No matter who they are or where they come from, when people are in need, helping them must become an immediate priority.
Wiesel should be an inspiration to people everywhere. He manages to accomplish his work peacefully through knowledge that fighting will only worsen the problem. Though Wiesel has experienced more suffering than most, he never seeks revenge but believes things can change peacefully. “‘Wiesel is a messenger to mankind. 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.’ These words were spoken by Egil Aarvik, chairmen of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, in 1986 upon awarding Elie Wiesel the Nobel Peace Prize…” (Wiesel, Elie) Even through the horrible suffering and loss he has experienced, Wiesel never turns to violence. He never felt he needed revenge on those who caused his pain. He instead sees that one day evil will be overcome by the teaching of respect and understanding to all.