Elisha Wiesel — Why We Must ‘Never Forget’ the Holocaust
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, in which six million Jewish men, women, and children perished at the hands of the Nazis, the Jewish people vowed, “Never forget.” Yet, as host Yael Eckstein and her special guest Elisha Wiesel discuss on today’s podcast, an alarming number of adults today know nothing about the Holocaust. Elisha brings a unique perspective to the conversation as the only son of Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Holocaust survivor, and author of Night, his renowned memoir of survival in the Nazi death camps. Their conversation is particularly relevant as this month Israelis commemorate Yom HaShoah, Israel’s national Holocaust Remembrance day. Wiesel shares on the podcast his father’s legacy, not only as a passionate humanitarian, but as a proud Jew, who wanted to bring light to the dark places in our world. Listen now to this important and insightful conversation.
Growing up, Elisha Wiesel remembers that he learned about his father’s role in the world as one of the most famous survivors of the Holocaust more through comparing his childhood experiences to others. “My friends would be going on trips to Palm Beach or the Hamptons for their vacations, and we’d be going to visit Polish death camps,” Elisha told Yael on the podcast. “At a very young age, I realized that I was not in the usual family. I was in a family that had experienced a great tragedy, and it was only slowly, over many, many years, that the pieces of the puzzle came together for me.”
Elisha Wiesel is the only child and son of Elie Wiesel, whose experiences as a teen in the death camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald are chronicled in his renowned memoir, Night. Elie Wiesel advocated tirelessly for remembering and learning about the Holocaust, and was a driving force behind the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 “for being a messenger to mankind: his message is one of peace, atonement, and dignity.”
It was only when Elisha, then in his early 20s, accompanied his father on a visit to his father’s hometown of Sighet, Romania, that he began to comprehend the enormity of the Holocaust.
“I have to say I never fully understood the Shoah (Holocaust) until I saw my father’s childhood home, and [saw] where there were once 10,000 Jews in this place and there was now almost nothing. To see where Jews lived and realize that they stood for something … that they had families … that they were living life to the fullest. It just hit me so powerfully,” Elisha remembered. “That trip really forever changed my personal ability to comprehend the Shoah.”
What Elisha also remembers is what his father wanted him to take away from this heritage. “My father did not want me to just think of myself as a Holocaust descendant, but he wanted me to think of myself as a Jew, a proud Jew with a connection to what that meant. And it wasn’t just that we’ve been attacked,” Elisha shares with Yael.
“It was more that we stood for something … that it was a joyful Shabbat dinner table where the family came together and put away the concerns of the world for a moment and just focused on that family time and that connection to God and that connection to history and where we came from and what those values were,” Elisha said.
And while the world will most likely remember Elie Wiesel as a global humanitarian and advocate for human rights everywhere, Elisha said what his father most wanted to be remembered as is “a good Jew. He wanted to be identified with his faith and with his people, but it also meant for him to take that platform and to do great things in the world with it … to act as a light and go out and help people because it’s the right thing to do.”