Given the passing of author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel on July 2, I began looking into the man behind the legend a couple days ago, trying to better appreciate all he had done and said in memory of the Holocaust’s 6 million Jewish victims. When I heard about his death, I remembered reading Night as a child, remembered admiring his honesty and willingness to relive what were undoubtedly some of the most painful memories of his life – all so that the world would know what horrors he and his family suffered during those dark years. So imagine my surprise when I found that a number of people, in fact, had a lot of negative things to say about Wiesel, and not just after he had passed. The more I read, the more what they were saying began to make sense, and I found that the vision I had of this Holocaust hero temporarily disintegrated a little—at least, until I realized that for every article pointing out all of Wiesel’s missteps, there are 5 written in tribute to all he accomplished.
Critics say he turned the Holocaust into an industry, into which he wove religion so much that it became a sort of God to those Jews his voice influenced. They write about how he neglected the forgotten victims of the Holocaust, all the LGBTQ individuals and Roma Gypsies that fell victim to Hitler’s hatred-fueled mission. But most of all, the late Wiesel is under fire for his stance on Israel and his unconditional support of its policies regarding Palestine. Most famously, American journalist Max Blumenthal tweeted that Wiesel “went from a victim of war crimes to a supporter of those who commit them. He did more harm than good and should not be honored.” Indeed, it seems that Elie Wiesel was blinded by his passionate nationalism for Israel, as his advocacy for human rights did not extend to the injustices suffered by Palestinians at the hands of his beloved country.
But does all of this really negate the remarkable work this man did with his life after he was spared from a premature death at Auschwitz? So the man had some flaws; but countless other recently deceased public figures, including Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali, also “overlooked the crimes of [their] allies and disregard those suffering under them,” and were not called out post-mortem as Anshel Pfeffer mentioned in his tribute article titled, “The Price of Elie Wiesel’s Victory.”
I am of firm belief that Elie Wiesel’s shortcomings cannot eclipse all the good he worked for; many exemplary historical individuals express unpopular sentiments and stand by political viewpoints that the public doesn’t care for, and this does not eliminate the impact they have on the world. Between his passionate advocacy for peace regarding Yugoslavia in 1993 and the way he made it possible for millions of people to experience the Holocaust up-close and personally through his brutally honest writing, not to mention his many other endeavors and accomplishments. In Romania, there is now an Elie Wiesel National Institute for Studying the Holocaust; he also established the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and Boston University named their Center for Jewish Studies in his honor.
After an event in which millions of innocents were silenced, Elie Wiesel used his voice to honor those who fell and to remind us, as the world, that we failed them and cannot ever stand by and let such atrocities be committed again. The following quote taken from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech best exemplify his attitude towards peacekeeping, and continue to inspire me today. In his speech, he reminds us that “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.” These are words that cannot be taken lightly because they ring so true; they’re a call to arms against all the injustices in the world.
The few remaining survivors of the Holocaust are slowly disappearing as the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War draws near. Many of the most prominent ones have already passed, so now it’s our job, as witnesses of their pain, to ensure this isn’t where their stories end. Because it’s easy to believe the past is obsolete because it’s over, but what your high school history teacher told you time and time again is still accurate: history repeats itself. Elie Wiesel was such an inspiration precisely because he made such an effort to resist this; he was proof that just one person can make a whole lot of difference, and I hope Night remains a book that pops our bubbles and reminds us of the horrors we are capable of. The lessons we learn when we look back at some of the darkest times our world has experienced will remind us to do everything in our power to prevent them from happening again.
At least, I truly hope they do.
This article was written by Jade Carraway, a writer for dusk magazine.