Home September 2016 Memory and Hope

Memory and Hope

0916elieweiselLike many others, I met Elie Wiesel through his words. His memoir Night was the first book I assigned my students when I began teaching at Barnard College in 1976. I still have my copy, corners curled, words underlined, and margins filled with notes.

I never thought I would be lucky enough to meet him, but I was, first in 2005 when he came to Chapman University for the dedication of the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library, and then again in 2010, when he returned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education. On that occasion, President Doti invited him to accept a five-year appointment as Distinguished Presidential Fellow, spending one week each spring here. Over the next four years, he met with hundreds of students in dozens of classes, from English and Law, to Religious Studies and French. He spoke to large audiences and engaged in public “conversations” with Chancellor Daniele Struppa and others.

His schedule was daunting, especially for a man in his 80s. Yet, never once did he complain. Instead, he approached each day with delight, and, as I discovered, he liked surprises. Although he would listen patiently when I shared with him months in advance a minute-by-minute itinerary, when he was here, each morning, he would ask me with a smile, “What are we doing today?” I still am amazed that someone who had been subjected to so much horror and suffering in his youth, could approach each day with such trust and hope. I learned that when he said a class or an event or a conversation had been “good,” let alone “very good,” it truly meant something. His eyes lit up when I would hesitantly propose a new idea for his next visit. One year, as we met to plan the week, I told him I had been struck by one particular passage: “My inner geography is not an American geography. It is a very strange, faraway geography. These are places that are no longer here or anywhere. Sometimes I say to myself that they exist only in me, that when I go, they will go.” I suggested we have a readers’ theatre performance on that theme. He immediately agreed. We presented “The Worlds Within the Words of Elie Wiesel” on April 18, 2013. The script interwove passages from sixteen of his works encompassing five decades of his writing. For once, I think, he was truly surprised. At the conclusion of what had been an unforgettable student performance, Professor Wiesel came on stage. He was visibly moved, telling the students that their performance was far more than he could have imagined, repeatedly turning to them and saying, “it was good, really good.” I think perhaps that evening he realized that those faraway places would not disappear with his passing, but would instead live on within us, and, like Elie Wiesel himself, be a gift of both memory and hope.

Marilyn Harran, Ph.D., is Stern Chair in Holocaust Education and Director of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education at Chapman University.  She holds appointments in the Department of History and the Department of Religious Studies.

1 COMMENT

  1. My daughter, Natalie Fogueroa, was a student in your Eie Wiesel class, and now due to you works in the Chapman’s Holocaust Museum. I must tell you how much Natalie talks about you and looks up to you. Ever since she went on the 8th grade DC trip and visited the Holocaust museum she has had a passion with WWII and the Holocaust. That night after she visited the Holocaust museum in DC she called me and said she felt so bad because her chaperon has to escort her out of the museum because she was crying so hard. I told her how proud I was, that she gets it and her reaction was one of compassion. Last year she asked me if she should minor or even double major in Holocaust History, what could she possibly do with that degree. I told her honestly I don’t know what she could do but if she is passionate about it to go for it and the doors will open. Dr. Harran, I don’t know where Natalie will go with this, but not many 20 year olds have it their heart to carry on the history of the holocaust and never let it be forgotten. I hope she follows in your footsteps, takes any and all advice you give her and keeps the history alive in her generation. Thank you for your positive influence.

    Vicki Figueroa

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

5781

Reflection on the Days of Awe

Setting the Stage for Success

Hebrew Academy