Rest in Peace, Elie Wiesel

by Heather Robinson

Today the world lost Elie Wiesel, humanitarian, journalist, activist, Zionist, and passionate believer in the power of the written word.

Like many youngsters, I read “Night,” Wiesel’s memoir of his nightmarish year in a concentration camp when he was fifteen, when I was an adolescent myself. I’ve read quite a bit since, including much Holocaust literature, but scenes and lines from that devastating book are with me still. What I recall most about it was Mr. Wiesel’s depictions of the suffering of his family, especially of his father and beloved younger sister, Tzipora, who was among the millions murdered. He wrote with great candor about a unique type of suffering: the horror of feeling one’s own will to survive begin to outweigh even one’s deepest, most intense other feelings, including deep love. This type of writing is rare in a world in which most people want to be seen as entirely sympathetic, as always in the right, as heroes. He was a good man, a humanitarian, an excellent writer, and a man of conscience who channeled his crushing anguish and survivor’s guilt into action on behalf of the innocent, for the rest of his long life.

Wiesel was clearly haunted by having been witness to unspeakable acts of horror, especially against children. He was in that sense a kind of ordinary hero–not the kind who literally lays down his life for another, perhaps (and in his writing, he is acutely conscious of that fact; nearly every passage of “Night” resonates with this self-awareness). But he was the type of person who lives humbly each day trying to do his part to be a force for good, by writing, agitating, speaking truth to power on behalf of the innocent. In his own way, he was brave, and a person of conscience. He was a darn good writer, too. With his great humility I believe that is a piece of how he might wish to be remembered.

Most recently, he came out against the Obama Administration’s misguided deal with Iran – a deal which further isolates an already embattled Jewish State, and weakens Israel’s position in relation to a genocidal enemy. It was a position that probably cost him prestige in some circles, but in sticking up for Israelis, he stood by his family – in the larger sense – and that is more than many American Jews managed to do.

My great friend and mentor, veteran journalist Steve Lipman of New York Jewish Week, has written a thorough and deep a piece on Wiesel’s life. You can read it here.

I like the picture of Wiesel above, when he was a young journalist and novelist.

Elie Wiesel wrote, “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.”

May he rest in peace.

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