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Elie Wiesel

Romanian-born Jewish writer, professor, political activist, and Holocaust survivor
Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other.

Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel (September 30, 1928 – July 2, 2016) was a Romanian-born American Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor. He authored 57 books, written mostly in French and English, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.

Contents

QuotesEdit

 
If you ask me what I want to achieve, it's to create an awareness, which is already the beginning of teaching.
 
The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.
 
No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.
 
I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
 
Whenever an angel says "Be not afraid!" you'd better start worrying. A big assignment is on the way.
  • Time does not heal all wounds; there are those that remain painfully open.
    • A Jew Today (1978)
  • Some writings could sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds.
    • A statement of 1968, as quoted in "How And Why I Write: An Interview with Elie Wiesel" by Heidi Anne Walker, in Journal of Education, Vol. 162 (1980), p. 57
    • Variants:
    • Some words are deeds.
      • Souls on Fire : Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters (1982)
    • Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds.
      • As quoted in "Nobelists, Auschwitz, and Survival" by Robert McAfee Brown, in Christianity and Crisis, Vol. 48 (7 March 1988), p. 58
  • If you ask me what I want to achieve, it's to create an awareness, which is already the beginning of teaching.
    • In a 1978 interview with John S. Friedman, published in The Paris Review 26 (Spring 1984); and in Elie Wiesel : Conversations (2002) edited by Robert Franciosi, p. 85
  • What I don't like today is, to put it coarsely, the phony Hasidism, the phony mysticism. Many students say, "Teach me mysticism." It's a joke.
    • In a 1978 interview with John S. Friedman, published in The Paris Review 26 (Spring 1984); and in Elie Wiesel : Conversations (2002) edited by Robert Franciosi, p. 86
  • Miracles in mysticism don't occupy such an important place. It's metaphor, for the peasants, for the crowds, to impress people. What does mysticism really mean? It means the way to attain knowledge. It's close to philosophy, except in philosophy you go horizontally while in mysticism you go vertically. You plunge into it. Philosophy is a slow process of logic and logical discourse: A bringing B bringing C and so forth. In mysticism you can jump from A to Z. But the ultimate objective is the same. It's knowledge. It's truth.
    • In a 1978 interview with John S. Friedman, published in The Paris Review 26 (Spring 1984); and in Elie Wiesel : Conversations (2002) edited by Robert Franciosi, p. 87
  • I rarely speak about God. To God yes. I protest against Him. I shout at Him. But open discourse about the qualities of God, about the problems that God imposes, theodicy, no. And yet He is there, in silence, in filigree.
    • In a 1978 interview with John S. Friedman, published in The Paris Review 26 (Spring 1984); and in Elie Wiesel : Conversations (2002) edited by Robert Franciosi, p. 87
  • That place, Mr. President, is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS.
    • Comments regarding US President Ronald Reagan's proposed visit to a Bitburg cemetery with then German President Helmut Kohl, on receiving the Congressional Gold Medal from Reagan (4/1/1985).
  • What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.
    • In an interview with Carol Rittner and Sandra Meyers in Courage To Care - Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, NYU Press, 1986, p. 2. Also quoted by Yad Vashem and Nicholas Kristoff in The Silence of the Bystanders, New York Times (March 19, 2006).
  • Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.
    • US News & World Report (27 October 1986)
  • The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference. Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. To be in the window and watch people being sent to concentration camps or being attacked in the street and do nothing, that's being dead.
    • US News & World Report (27 October 1986)
  • Whenever an angel says "Be not afraid!" you'd better start worrying. A big assignment is on the way.
    • As quoted in Spirituality and Liberation : Overcoming the Great Fallacy (1988) by Robert McAfee Brown, p. 136
  • From time immemorial, people have talked about peace without achieving it. Do we simply lack enough experience? Though we talk peace, we wage war. Sometimes we even wage war in the name of peace. . . . War may be too much a part of history to be eliminated—ever.
    • As quoted in "Is World Peace on the Horizon?", in The Watchtower (15 April 1991)
  • I don't believe in accidents. There are only encounters in history. There are no accidents.
    • As quoted in the International Herald Tribune (15 September 1992)
  • An immoral society betrays humanity because it betrays the basis for humanity, which is memory. An immoral society deals with memory as some politicians deal with politics. A moral society is committed to memory: I believe in memory. The Greek word alethia means Truth, Things that cannot be forgotten. I believe in those things that cannot be forgotten and because of that so much in my work deals with memory... What do all my books have in common? A commitment to memory.
    • "Building a Moral Society", Chamberlin Lecture at Lewis & Clark College (1995)
  • Close your eyes and listen. Listen to the silent screams of terrified mothers, the prayers of anguished old men and women. Listen to the tears of children. Jewish children, a beautiful little girl among them, with golden hair, whose vulnerable tenderness has never left me. Look and listen as they walk towards dark flames so gigantic that the planet itself seemed in danger.
    • From an address given at Auschwitz in occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Holocaust (27 January 1995)
  • The duty of the survivor is to bear testimony to what happened . . . You have to warn people that these things can happen, that evil can be unleashed. Race hatred, violence, idolatries—they still flourish.
    • As quoted in "Will Hatred Ever End?", in The Watchtower (15 June 1995)
  • What is abnormal is that I am normal. That I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and live my life — that is what is abnormal.
    • After being asked "What does it take to be normal again, after having your humanity stripped away by the Nazis?" in an interview in O : The Oprah Magazine (November 2000)
  • When a person doesn't have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.
    • Interview in O : The Oprah Magazine (November 2000)
  • For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.
    • Interview in O : The Oprah Magazine (November 2000)
  • I had anger but never hate. Before the war, I was too busy studying to hate. After the war, I thought, What's the use? To hate would be to reduce myself.
    • Interview in O : The Oprah Magazine (November 2000)
  • I believe mysticism is a very serious endeavor. One must be equipped for it. One doesn't study calculus before studying arithmetic. In my tradition, one must wait until one has learned a lot of Bible and Talmud and the Prophets to handle mysticism. This isn't instant coffee. There is no instant mysticism.
  • It's up to you now, and we shall help you — that my past does not become your future.
  • There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.
    • Attributed in The Little Book of Romanian Wisdom (2011) edited by Diana Doroftei and Matthew Cross
  • The greatest commandment to me in the Bible is not the Ten Commandments. (First of all, it’s too difficult to observe; second, we all pretend to observe.) My commandment is ‘Thou shall not stand idly by.’ Which means, when you witness an injustice: Don’t stand idly by. When you hear of a person or a group being persecuted: Do not stand idly by. When there is something wrong with the community around you or far away: Do not stand idly by. You must intervene. You must interfere. And that is actually the motto of human rights.

Night (1960)Edit

Translation by Marion Wiesel (2006)

  • They called him Moishe the Beadle, as if his entire life he had never had a surname.
  • "The yellow star? So what? It's not lethal..."
    (Poor Father! Of what then did you die?)
  • The barbed wire that encircled us like a wall did not fill us with real fear. In fact, we felt this was not a bad thing: we were entirely among ourselves. A small Jewish republic...
  • People thought this was a good thing. We would no longer have to look at all those hostile faces, endure those hate-filled stares. No more fear. No more anguish. We would live entirely among Jews, among brothers...
  • Most people thought we would remain in the ghetto until the end of the war, until the arrival of the Red Army. Afterward everything would be as before. The ghetto was ruled by neither German nor Jew; it was ruled by delusion.
  • The street resembled fairgrounds deserted in haste. There was a little of everything: suitcases, briefcases, bags, knives, dishes, banknotes, papers, faded portraits. All the things one planned to take along and finally left behind. They had ceased to matter.
    Open rooms everywhere. Gaping doors and windows looked out into the void. It all belonged to everyone since it no longer belonged to anyone. It was there for the taking. An open tomb.
  • "Faster! Faster! Move, you lazy good-for-nothings!" the Hungarian police were screaming.
    That was when I began to hate them, and my hatred remains our only link today. They were our first oppressors. They were the first faces of hell and death.
  • No one was praying for the night to pass quickly. The stars were but sparks of the immense conflagration that was consuming us. Were this conflagration to be extinguished one day, nothing would be left in the sky but extinct stars and unseeing eyes.
  • The Hungarian lieutenant went around with a basket and retrieved the last possessions from those who chose not to go on tasting the bitterness of fear.
    "There are eighty of you in the car," the German officer added. "If anyone goes missing, you will all be shot, like dogs."
    The two disappeared. The doors clanked shut. We had fallen into the trap, up to our necks. The doors were nailed, the way back irrevocably cut off. The world had become a hermetically sealed cattle car.
  • The beloved objects that we had carried with us from place to place were now left behind in the wagon and, with them, finally, our illusions.
  • An SS came toward us wielding a club. He commanded:
    "Men to the left! Women to the right!"
    Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight simple, short words. Yet that was the moment when I left my mother. There was no time to think, and I already felt my father's hand press against mine: we were alone.
  • "The world? The world is not interested in us. Today, everything is possible, even the crematoria..."
  • "Yisgadal, veyiskadash, shmey raba...May His name be celebrated and sanctified..." whispered my father.
    For the first time, I felt anger rising within me. Why should I sanctify His name? The Almighty, the eternal and terrible Master of the Universe, chose to be silent. What was there to thank Him for?
  • Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
    Never shall I forget that smoke.
    Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
    Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
    Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
    Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
    Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.
    Never.
  • The absent no longer entered our thoughts. One spoke of them who knows what happened to them? but their fate was not on our minds. We were incapable of thinking. Our senses were numbed, everything was fading into a fog. We no longer clung to anything. The instincts of self-preservation, of self-defense, of pride, had all deserted us. In one terrifying moment of lucidity, I thought of us as damned souls wandering through the void, souls condemned to wander through space until the end of time, seeking redemption, seeking oblivion, without any hope of finding either.
  • The night had passed completely. The morning star shone in the sky. I too had become a different person. The student of Talmud, the child I was, had been consumed by the flames. All that was left was a shape that resembled me. My soul had been invaded - and devoured - by a black flame.
  • "For God's sake, where is God?"
    And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
    "Where He is? This is where hanging here from this gallows..."
    That night, the soup tasted of corpses.
  • Thousands of lips repeated the benediction, bent over like trees in a storm.
    Blessed be God's name?
    Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because He kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death? How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers end up in the furnaces?
  • But now, I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy. I was nothing but ashes no, but I felt myself to be stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long. In the midst of these men assembled for prayer, I felt like an observer, a stranger.
  • The bell. It was already time to part, to go to bed. The bell regulated everything. It gave me orders and I executed them blindly. I hated that bell. Whenever I happened to dream of a better world, I imagined a universe without a bell.
  • "Don't be deluded. Hitler has made it clear that he will annihilate all Jews before the clock strikes twelve."
    I exploded:
    "What do you care what he said? Would you want us to consider him a prophet?"
    His cold eyes stared at me. At last, he said wearily:
    "I have more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He alone has kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people."
  • We were outside. The icy wind whipped my face. I was constantly biting my lips so that they wouldn't freeze. All around me, what appeared to be a dance of death. My head was reeling. I was walking through a cemetery. Among the stiffened corpses, there were logs of wood. Not a sound of distress, nit a plaintive cry, nothing but mass agony and silence. Nobody asked anyone for help. One died because one had to. No point in making trouble.
  • When I woke up, it was daylight. That is when I remembered that I had a father. During the alert, I had followed the mob, not taking care of him. I knew he was running out of strength, close to death, and yet had abandoned him.
    I went to look for him.
    Yet at the same time a thought crept into my mind: If only I didn't find him! If only I were relieved of this responsibility, I could use all my strength to fight for my own survival, to take care of myself...Instantly, I felt ashamed, ashamed of myself forever.
  • His last word had been my name. He had called out to me and I had not answered.
    I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like: Free at last!
    • About the death of his father
  • One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto.
    From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me.
    The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.

Nobel acceptance speech (1986)Edit

Nobel acceptance speech (10 December 1986)
  • No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.
  • I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
  • Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must at that moment become the center of the universe.
  • As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs."

Hope, Despair, and Memory (1986)Edit

 
Language failed us. We would have to invent a new vocabulary, for our own words were inadequate, anemic.
Nobel Lecture (11 December 1986)
 
Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.
 
None of us is in a position to eliminate war, but it is our obligation to denounce it and expose it in all its hideousness. War leaves no victors, only victims.
  • Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future.
  • A recollection. The time: After the war. The place: Paris. A young man struggles to readjust to life. His mother, his father, his small sister are gone. He is alone. On the verge of despair. And yet he does not give up. On the contrary, he strives to find a place among the living. He acquires a new language. He makes a few friends who, like himself, believe that the memory of evil will serve as a shield against evil; that the memory of death will serve as a shield against death.
  • Waking among the dead, one wondered if one was still alive. And yet real despair only seized us later. Afterwards. As we emerged from the nightmare and began to search for meaning.
  • It seemed as impossible to conceive of Auschwitz with God as to conceive of Auschwitz without God. Therefore, everything had to be reassessed because everything had changed. With one stroke, mankind's achievements seemed to have been erased. Was Auschwitz a consequence or an aberration of "civilization"? All we know is that Auschwitz called that civilization into question as it called into question everything that had preceded Auschwitz. Scientific abstraction, social and economic contention, nationalism, xenophobia, religious fanaticism, racism, mass hysteria. All found their ultimate expression in Auschwitz.
  • For us, forgetting was never an option. Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered.
  • Of course some wars may have been necessary or inevitable, but none was ever regarded as holy. For us, a holy war is a contradiction in terms. War dehumanizes, war diminishes, war debases all those who wage it. The Talmud says, "Talmidei hukhamim marbin shalom baolam" (It is the wise men who will bring about peace). Perhaps, because wise men remember best.
  • How are we to reconcile our supreme duty towards memory with the need to forget that is essential to life? No generation has had to confront this paradox with such urgency. The survivors wanted to communicate everything to the living: the victim's solitude and sorrow, the tears of mothers driven to madness, the prayers of the doomed beneath a fiery sky.
  • After the war we reassured ourselves that it would be enough to relate a single night in Treblinka, to tell of the cruelty, the senselessness of murder, and the outrage born of indifference: it would be enough to find the right word and the propitious moment to say it, to shake humanity out of its indifference and keep the torturer from torturing ever again.
  • We thought it would be enough to tell of the tidal wave of hatred which broke over the Jewish people for men everywhere to decide once and for all to put an end to hatred of anyone who is "different" — whether black or white, Jew or Arab, Christian or Moslem — anyone whose orientation differs politically, philosophically, sexually.
  • We tried. It was not easy. At first, because of the language; language failed us. We would have to invent a new vocabulary, for our own words were inadequate, anemic. And then too, the people around us refused to listen; and even those who listened refused to believe; and even those who believed could not comprehend. Of course they could not. Nobody could. The experience of the camps defies comprehension.
  • If someone had told us in 1945 that in our lifetime religious wars would rage on virtually every continent, that thousands of children would once again be dying of starvation, we would not have believed it. Or that racism and fanaticism would flourish once again, we would not have believed it.
  • Terrorism must be outlawed by all civilized nations — not explained or rationalized, but fought and eradicated. Nothing can, nothing will justify the murder of innocent people and helpless children.
  • Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair. I remember the killers, I remember the victims, even as I struggle to invent a thousand and one reasons to hope.
  • There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. The Talmud tells us that by saving a single human being, man can save the world.
  • None of us is in a position to eliminate war, but it is our obligation to denounce it and expose it in all its hideousness. War leaves no victors, only victims.
  • A destruction only man can provoke, only man can prevent. Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other.
  • No human being is illegal.


MisattributedEdit

  • They are committing the greatest indignity human beings can inflict on one another: telling people who have suffered excruciating pain and loss that their pain and loss were illusions.
    • Robert McAfee Brown. Preface for the 25th anniversary edition of Night. Page v, Bantam Books paperback; 1982 reissue edition.

Quotes about WieselEdit

  • It is the Committee's opinion that Elie Wiesel has emerged as one of the most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterise the world. Wiesel is a messenger to mankind; his message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief. His message is based on his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler's death camps. The message is in the form of a testimony, repeated and deepened through the works of a great author.
    • Official Press Release of The Norwegian Nobel Committee (14 October 1986)

External linksEdit