HomeJune 2010The Voice of a People

The Voice of a People

“Think higher, feel deeper, and elevate whatever you do,” advised Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient.  Wiesel encouraged an audience of more than 500 — including comedian and  philanthropist Jerry Lewis and Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Samueli, whose parents were Holocaust survivors — at Chapman University on April 25 to have hope in spite of everything.

Rather than despairing over his experiences during the Holocaust, current anti-Semitic incidents, and existential threats to Israel, Wiesel has chosen to look for hope in Israel and in humanity.  At the same time the author of more than 50 books including his chilling memoir, Night, which has been translated into 30 languages, has tried to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive for new generations.

“If we forget, we are accomplices,” Wiesel, who was speaking at a gala called “Our Promise to Remember: An Evening of Humanity and Hope,” said.  Praising Chapman University for bringing people together to learn about such a dark period of humanity, he added, “The role of an educator, a writer, or a witness is to be a matchmaker.”  In choosing to match memory and hope, Wiesel has chosen to “seize the intensity of events that cannot be expressed, because there are no words for them” and educate people.

Citing education as the antidote to both assimilation and anti-Semitism, Wiesel added, “Eighteen million people have visited the Museum of Tolerance in Washington, and the whole world opened itself up to the world of the Holocaust.  My wildest hopes have come to fruition.  I should be happy, but I know the world has not learned its lessons.”

In 2009 there were more anti-Semitic events than anytime since 1945, according to Wiesel.  He added, “Without anti-Semitism, there would have been no Auschwitz, but people keep coming back to it.”

Wiesel believes that we can find hope in Israel and that Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people.  “Hope and Israel must be part of us,” he said.  “I don’t live in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem lives in me.”

In a recent ad in the New York Times, Wiesel said, “For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and its joy are part of our collective memory.”

An eternal optimist, Wiesel told me privately that he believes the Israeli government and the American government will work out their differences about Jerusalem.  Although anti-Semitism is growing all over the world, he believes that the U.S. and Israel have always managed to work things out.

Discussing the threats hanging over Israel, “which is so little and so existentially threatened” by the likes of Mahmoud Ahmedinijad, “who should be arrested for incitement of crimes against humanity, as the world looks on,” Wiesel asked, “Where is the hope in all that?  How can one live, and attain love, friendship, and success, all the while knowing that death is waiting for us?”

Rhetorically, Wiesel said, “Hope can become a source of danger, but it depends what we do with it.   If I were alone, I could have chosen a life without hope, but I am not alone. No human being is alone. Therefore we must help those who need help – those in jail that are innocent, those who are sick and helpless, those who live in fear and anguish.  There is a choice.  Make the right choice.”

About Chapman University

“Our Promise to Remember: An Evening oh Humanity and Hope” featuring Elie Wiesel marked the 10th anniversary of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education and the 25th anniversary of Marilyn Harran’s tenure at Chapman University.  Harran holds the Stern Chair in Holocaust Education and is the founding director of the Rodgers Center and the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library.  Harran’s students, many of whom are not Jewish, learn from academics and meet survivors.  The event, which was sold out months ago, raised about $500,000 to benefit the Rodgers Center and Holocaust study programs at Chapman.

Gala co-chairs were Nancy and Irving Chase, Rosemary and William Elperin, and Sheila and Mike Lefkowitz.  Honorary gala co-chairs were Phyllis and Barry Rodgers, Susan and Henry Samueli, and Sue and Ralph Stern.  The Board of Visitors of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education includes Gary Brahm, Judy Brostoff, Nancy and Irving Chase, Deborah and Lee Drucker, Susan and Richard Fybel, Natalie Weinstein Gold, Dana and Yossie Hollander, Karin Polacheck, and Ralph Stern.

About Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel was born September 30, 1928, in Transylvania, which is now part of Romania. When he was 15, Nazis deported him and his family to Auschwitz. His mother and younger sister died, and he and his father were later sent to Buchenwald, where his father died before the camp was liberated in 1945.

After the war, Wiesel studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and later became a journalist. During an interview with French writer Francois Mauriac, he was persuaded to write about his experiences in the death camps. The result was his memoir, Night.

When Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a “messenger to mankind,” because, through his struggle to come to terms with “his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler’s death camps,” along with his “practical work in the cause of peace,” Wiesel had delivered a powerful message “of peace, atonement, and human dignity” to humanity.

This is Wiesel’s second visit to Chapman.  He dedicated the university’s Holocaust library on April 11, 2005, on the 60th anniversary of his liberation from Buchenwald.


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