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Wiesel addresses moral obligation, overcoming hate

Jessica Patchett / Editor in Chief

After nearly 60 years of accomplishment since his enduring of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel spoke at Elon University on his worldview and struggle for faith, but little on the experience that he says profoundly influenced them.

“To this day, I prefer not to speak about that topic. I will talk about philosophy, literature, religion. It is too personal,” Wiesel said. He held both a question-and-answer session and gave an address at Elon’s Spring Convocation for Honors Wednesday afternoon.

In his Convocation address, Wiesel spoke on the resurgence of anti-Semitism, his hope for the spread of compassion among people and his wisdom for living in moral obligation. When students asked about Wiesel’s experience in the Holocaust during the question-and- answer session, he said, “It is in my book.”

Wiesel is the author of more than 35 books, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, an advocate for the rights of all minorities and a Holocaust survivor. He has been active in the forefront of international politics in engaging leaders and encouraging reconciliation among the people of hate-torn situations such as South Africa and Yugoslavia and Israel and Palestine.

To these people, he said, he offered the same perspective he gave to the Elon community. This worldview looked beyond his past in a Nazi concentration camp and deeper than the current situations pressing the international community in what Wiesel identified as memory and moral obligation.

“It is the passion, the passion that matters,” Wiesel said to Elon students. “That you want to know why. That you want to know, how can culture and education be open to cruelty? What is there that we can do to bring even a moment of redemption in the lives of men, women and children who live in despair because humanity has failed them, because civilization has lost its magic?”

A man of words, Wiesel said he has known since 1945 that he would write. His first manuscript of his world-renowned book “Night” was more than 864 pages. But after all of his accomplishments, Wiesel said, “I would trade all of my books to have written one chapter like Isaiah.”

The biblical prophet’s poetry, wisdom and expression mirror the passion for humanity and faith in God that Wiesel demonstrated throughout his address and his comments.

“I was the man who was there, I was the one who saw it,” Wiesel said.

To many, Wiesel’s words have become a modern prophecy, recalling the memories of the unimaginable and foreshadowing the darkness of what could come from another culture of ignorance and hatred.

Wiesel addressed questions from a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, a fellow Jewish professor and students of his own literature and of his life experiences. And to these questions regarding global issues in the modern world, Weisel shrugged, exasperated by the uncompromising situations world leaders have created in places such as Israel and Palestine.

“You can’t imagine how I feel. Anti-semitism is on the rise. There are more anti-Semites in the world now than ever – mainly in Europe today,” Wiesel said. “I can not tell you how distressed I am. What we so poorly, so inadequately call the Holocaust, did not cure the world of anti-semitism.”

The sorrow and passion in his voice begged for the witness and understanding of which he spoke. In his address, Wiesel emphasized learning and remembering.

“It is for that reason that this school is to remain a sanctuary. The echoes and memories of those who had faith in us will be here. That faith is to be a bridge between those who have disappeared and those who are still with us,” he said.

Wiesel said that his faith was a wounded one, because of the tragedies he has suffered and the cruelties he has seen. But, he said, there are solutions to the problems of the world.

“Whatever the answer is – I don’t know what the answer is – whatever it is, education must be a major component of it,” he said.

In closing, Wiesel asked his audience to consider others in its everyday actions.

“What will you remember when you leave this place?” Wiesel asked. “Remember that words matter. Remember that to forget the past should never be an option, because the past was once the present. If someone hurts and if you do nothing than you are the cause of his or her hurt. We are all soldiers on the same road, maybe going from nowhere to nowhere. As long as the journey lasts, may God look upon us and smile.”

Brian Viebranz / Photographer

Humanitarian Elie Wiesel was the speaker at Wednesday’s Convocation. Weisel, the author of many books about the Holocaust, addressed hatred and anti-Semitism, and encouraged people to have compassion for others.

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