In Memoriam: Elie Wiesel
By Cheyanne Perkins
The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission is greatly saddened by news of the passing of Elie Wiesel on July 2, 2016. The world lost a person of great empathy and intellect, and is already feeling this loss. A Holocaust survivor himself, Wiesel completely dedicated his life to the recognition and alleviation of the suffering of people all over the world. He became a pillar for the upholding of human rights, and his impact shines through even the most basic examination of his life.
Elie Wiesel was born in Transylvania (part of Romania) on September 30, 1928. Mere months after World War II officially began in 1939, northern Transylvania—the place the Wiesel family called home—became part of Hungary. Not long afterward, the entire area allied with the Axis powers.
Along with the rest of his family, Wiesel was forced to enter Auschwitz in 1944, upon Nazi occupation of Hungary. His mother and little sister were murdered there. Wiesel and his father were later sent from Auschwitz to Buchenwald, where his father died of disease and starvation just a few months before liberation. Wiesel was liberated from Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, at the age of 16. His two older sisters survived the Holocaust as well. In 1955, Wiesel immigrated to the United States.
Elie Wiesel could not forget what had happened. He would work constantly for the rest of his life to make sure the Holocaust was remembered. He would also work to end numerous other human rights abuses, including other genocides. Wiesel so eloquently explained his sense of duty in the preface of his memoir, Night:
“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
Over the last several decades, Wiesel’s untiring commitment to the cause of justice made him the recipient of a litany of honors and awards. In 1986, he was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace. He received a multitude of honorary degrees from various locations. He wrote over sixty books. He also, along with his wife, Marion, created the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, which works to, “combat indifference, intolerance and injustice.”
Wiesel was named Chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust in 1978, by President Jimmy Carter. The purpose of the Commission, as stated in its “Report to the President,” was to investigate the “’establishment and maintenance of an appropriate memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust, to examine the feasibility for the creation and maintenance of the memorial…and to recommend appropriate ways for the nation to commemorate…[the] Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust.’” He was also the first chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, and worked to establish the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (the Council became the museum’s board upon its opening in 1993).
The examples above only begin to scratch the surface of Elie Wiesel’s influence on our world; the entirety of that influence is immeasurable. Please join us in remembering and honoring the life of Elie Wiesel, and the ways he changed our world for the better.Tags: 2016 auschwitz buchenwald elie wiesel holocaust night nobel prize for peace president's commission on the holocaust united states holocaust memorial museum