There are people who instill in us such a sense of humility, who bear themselves with such dignity despite the suffering they have endured, whose witness to history is so powerful, that we know their influence will be felt down through the generations.
Elie Wiesel – author, human rights activist, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate – who died Saturday at the age of 87, was such a man. One of the true prophets of our day, it was through his unflinching courage in chronicling the atrocities he experienced during the Holocaust, and his honesty in confronting his own crisis of faith that resulted from those experiences, that millions of people who came after have come to better understand not just the terrifying facts of this dark chapter in history, but its effects on the collective memory of the Jewish people.
In his 1986 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Elie Wiesel said that after experiencing the unimaginable suffering of the Nazi death camps, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Indeed, he was not silent. Elie Wiesel dedicated his life to Holocaust education. He was an outspoken advocate for the rights of oppressed people around the world. He was tireless in his fight against intolerance and injustice. His death is a blow not just to the Jewish world, but to all who believe in the cause of liberty and justice.
It was my privilege to know Elie Wiesel. In 2014 I was honored to receive the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s highest honor, the Raoul Wallenberg Award, an honor that had been bestowed upon Wiesel years before. While we mourn his death, we give thanks to God for his life, and his example – an example that, with God’s help, we pray we will be able to carry on. May his memory be a blessing.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein