His name has always been associated with the Holocaust. The Jewish community could count on him to speak for the victims and the survivors of the Shoah. I was proud to learn of an early connection to B’nai B’rith when he was the recipient of the first B’nai B’rith Jewish Heritage Award for Excellence in Literature in 1966.
The most famous of his writing is Night, written as a novel, but is an account of his own life during the Holocaust. It describes the deportation of his family from Hungary in 1944, the death of his father at the hands of the Nazis, his experience surviving in Auschwitz and his liberation by the Allies.
His writings, continued to question man’s relationship with G-d and his fellow man. So many quotes can be attributed to him that come from his collection of novels and memoirs. He became a public figure, known for speaking out on difficult topics. His messages woven into his writing usually linked back to his experience as a witness to man’s inhumanity to man.
He went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. In his remarks, he shared a question 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?”
On that day in Oslo in 1986, he shared that the same boy who sought answers from his father, now was asking: “What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?” Wiesel said to his younger self, “I tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.”
In conjunction with the B’nai B’rith Jewish Heritage Award, Elie Wiesel’s short stories, Three Legends for Our Times was published in the Spring 1966 edition of the B’nai B’rith publication Jewish Heritage. One of the stories, Face in the Window, is a description of the deportation of Jews from Hungary. It offers us, in just eight paragraphs, discussion content for an adult learning group on the question of being a bystander.
In honor of Elie Wiesel, the B’nai B’rith Center for Jewish Identity invites you to assemble casual learning groups in your living rooms and offices to read and reflect. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org to get started. There is so much of our history and heritage to share.
In 1966, in the introduction to the publication Lily Edelman, then-director of the B’nai B’rith Continuing Adult Education Department, wrote “Elie Wiesel avows that, ‘he is so Jewish, that it’s painful.’ All of us are richer because of that pain and his power to transform it into the kind of literacy excellence that illuminates our understanding and enlarge our vision.”
Fifty-one years later it remains a fitting tribute to him.
Photo via Flickr