On September 9, 1993 Mary Jane and I were privileged to attend An Evening with Elie Wiesel at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. According to Wikipedia, “Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel was a Romanian-born American Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Holocaust survivor, and Nobel Laureate. He was the author of 57 books, written mostly in French and English, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. Along with writing he was a professor of the humanities at Boston University.”
Wiesel was fifteen years old when he and his family were placed in a confinement ghetto in his hometown of Sighetu. Mr. Wiesel lost his mother and father and sister in the camps.
Have you ever met a fellow human being that had such a magnetism about them…that you paused and reflected on the experience? Elie Wiesel had that affect on me. His face and his eyes were haunting.
Mary Jane recalls Elie Wiesel speaking from a passage from his first book, Night, and how she was moved by the painful honesty of the passage…and what it was like to be in the Camps. The passage is regarding a father and son running and the human, emotional, traumatic, challenge between them. “It happened on the road. We lost sight of one another during the journey. I stayed a little to the rear of the column. I hadn’t any strength left for running. And my son didn’t notice. Thats all I know. Where has he disappeared? Where can I find him? Perhaps you’e seen him? Perhaps you’ve seen him somewhere? ‘No Rabbi Eliahou, I haven’t seen him.’ He left then as he had come: like a wind-swept shadow. He had already passed through the door when I suddenly remembered seeing his son running by my side. I had forgotten that, and I didn’t tell Rabbi Eliahou! Then I remembered something else: his son had seen him loosing ground, limping, staggering back to the rear of the column. He had seen him. And he had continued to run on in front, letting the distance between them grow greater. A terrible thought loomed up in my mind: he had wanted to get rid of his father! He had felt that his father was growing weak, he had believed that the end was near and sought this separation in order to get rid of the burden, to free himself from the encumbrance which could lessen his own chances of survival” Night: pages 86 and 87.
Mr. Wiesel believed that he must keep the memory alive of the Holocaust…but struggled with the futility of explaining an event that, “defied reason and imagination.”
Upon Mr. Wiesel’s first post war visit to Germany he was moved by the German students that he met and their distressing search to understand Germany’s past. He urged reconciliation.
I would liken hearing Elie Wiesel speak and later meeting him as he signed our copy of Night…to meeting an Old Testament Prophet. A man who had witnessed more cruelty, fear, pain, and death…genocide…than most of us will ever experience…and yet sought to bring people together.
A lesson for our time.