Elie Wiesel died yesterday. Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate, and human rights activist, his wife describe him as a fighter who “fought for the memory of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and he fought for Israel. He waged countless battles for innocent victims regardless of ethnicity or creed.”
Wiesel talked about the importance of witness in a commentary he did for NPR in 2008. He said
I believe that whatever we receive we must share. When we endure an experience, the experience cannot stay with me alone. It must be opened, it must become an offering, it must be deepened and given and shared. And of course I am afraid that memories suppressed could come back with a fury, which is dangerous to all human beings, not only to those who directly were participants but to people everywhere, to the world, for everyone. So, therefore, those memories that are discarded, shamed, somehow they may come back in different ways — disguised, perhaps seeking another outlet.
Granted, our task is to inform. But information must be transformed into knowledge, knowledge into sensitivity and sensitivity into commitment.
How can we therefore speak, unless we believe that our words have meaning, that our words will help others to prevent my past from becoming another person’s — another peoples’ — future. Yes, our stories are essential — essential to memory. I believe that the witnesses, especially the survivors, have the most important role. They can simply say, in the words of the prophet, “I was there.”
What is a witness if not someone who has a tale to tell and lives only with one haunting desire: to tell it. Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.
After all, God is God because he remembers.
Last year during Lent, I read Wiesel’s book, Night. You can read the post I wrote about it here.