Elie Wiesel: A Tribute to the Man Who Remembered the Forgotten

Gabrielle Klemt - 1B Geological
Posted on: July 3, 2016

There was a period in high school when all it seemed we talked about was the Holocaust. What made this term in school so hard to bear was that all of it was true, not one thing covered was fiction; that was truly what someone—the same age as us—had experienced. We’d move from history where we studied WW2, to French where we studied the saddest play ever, Au Revoir les Enfants (literally “Goodbye children”), to English where we were reading Night, a book about one boy surviving the Concentration camps.

On July 2, the world lost one of its foremost fighters for the cause of peace, Elie Wiesel, who died at the age of 87. His most famous work Night, written in 1956, has been translated into over 30 languages and has sold millions of copies all over the world.

Born to a Jewish family in Romania, 1928, Elie grew up in a town where Judaism was just a fact of life. In 1944, the Nazis came to their town, rounded everyone up, and put them on freight trains, packed in like animals for slaughter without food or water. His family was soon split up, boys from girls.

They were taken to Auschwitz in Poland, where Elie survived by working hard and lying about his age, telling them he was 18 instead of 15 to avoid being killed. Miraculously, he survived the war and the hard labour, the sickness and the camps, although most of his family and friends did not. And yet, when he wrote about his experiences, he did not write about revenge or hate, he wrote about unity and peace, of brotherhood.

In essence, it was his message of unity which won him, in 1986, the Nobel Peace Prize. In his speech after being given the award, Elie spoke of his guilt in surviving, in speaking for the people who no longer had a voice. He brought his message around the world, trying to spread the idea that there is always a better way than death, than war.  He fought not only for the memory of all those killed in the Second World War, he fought for the persecuted the world over. His causes included Soviet Jews, Nicaragua’s Miskito Indians, Ethiopian-born Israeli youth, Argentina’s “Disappeared,” Cambodian refugees, the Kurds, and victims of famine and genocide in Africa, apartheid in South Africa and war in the former Yugoslavia.

Often Elie would lobby the Presidents of the United States and other politicians to make certain changes or to avoid others, and often they would listen. He was the kind of person who inspired people to make a difference, according to his son.

A prominent author, activist, journalist, and professor at City College in New York and at the University of Boston, there are many people who were touched by Elie and are speaking out about his passing. Former students, Presidents, journalists, there is hardly a group with whom Elie’s message didn’t resonate.

It is incredible how relevant his message still is today, that unity is better than division. Especially at this strange time with Donald Trump and the Brexit vote. It seems that people have forgotten, or maybe that they don’t want to remember, the harm that labelling people as “different” can cause.

People like Elie are survivors for a reason, as he said in 1981, “I must do something with my life. It is too serious to play games with anymore, because in my place, someone else could have been saved. And so I speak for that person. On the other hand, I know I cannot.” He may have believed he could not speak for those without a voice, but his efforts should never be overlooked or forgotten. In today’s world that should be more than obvious, let’s hope we take note soon.