Elie Wiesel is a survivor the greatest of mass murder in history, the Holocaust. As a young man, he was sent to the most notorious concentration camps run by Nazi Germany, Buchenwald and Auschwitz. As with many survivors of the Holocaust, and of other crimes against humanity over the centuries, Wiesel carries both the burden of guilt for having survived when so many others didn’t, and the incomprehension of how such an act of mass extermination on the scale of the Holocaust could have happened in the 20th Century, in the most technologically advanced nation in Europe. His efforts at ensuring that the brutal deaths of six million Jews and four million others , including Roma, homosexuals, and the mentally and physically disabled, are not forgotten, and to prevent future such occurrences, were rewarded with the Nobel Prize for Peace. During Wiesel’s acceptance speech on December 10, 1986, he pondered the incomprehensibility of an event of the horrific magnitude as the Holocaust:
“I remember: it happened yesterday or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the kingdom of night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.
I remember: he asked his father: "Can this be true?" This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?”
Elie Wiesel has proven unable decades later to answer his own questions of mankind. Sadly, the questions, while not intended as rhetorical, have certainly turned out that way. And, so, when he states, as he did in his acceptance speech – “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe” – he is simply stating the obvious, and the frequently ignored, demand that incidences like the Holocaust never be permitted to happen again. His subsequent statement that “Human rights are being violated on every continent” is a basic truth, lies at the heart of his plea that “we must interfere.”
How much could have been done by the Allied powers, especially the strongest among them, the United States, to at least minimize the destruction of European Jewry that occurred under the watchful gaze of much of the world during that period in human history will be forever debated. That nothing was done, however, is in itself a crime against humanity. At the time of his speech, the world had experienced another genocidal act in Cambodia, and again had done nothing. In fact, as Wiesel knew, no sooner had Germany been defeated in World War II and the concentration camps liberated, then European Jews were again subjected to physical attacks in pogroms in places like Poland and Lithuania. A Romanian-Jew until emigrating to the United States after the war, Elie Wiesel knows from what he speaks. The years since his speech have further validated his remarks in places like Srebrenica, Darfur, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The post-Holocaust demand of “Never again” has been seriously ignored.