Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor whose haunting narrative would become some of the most important descriptions of the destruction, died Saturday. He was 87.
Wiesel, winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, was the author of Night, a memoir of his time in the ghetto in Romania and later Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He moved to France after the war to become a journalist, and emigrated to the United States in 1956.
Wiesel became a teacher at several U.S. universities, including City University of New York and Boston University. Over the course of his life, he wrote and spoke eloquently about his experience as a witness.
Here are some of his own words:
"Never shall I forget that night that first night in camp that turned my life into one long night. 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. Those moments that murdered my god and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never." — Night, 1956
"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." — Night, 1956
"And that is why 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. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe." — Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 1986
"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death." — interview with U.S. media, 1986
"Action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all." — Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 1986
"No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them." — interview with Parade magazine, 1992
"I still have questions for God and I still have problems with God, absolutely. But it is within faith, not outside faith, and surely not opposed to faith." — Chapman College (undated)
"To forget the victims means to kill them a second time. So I couldn't prevent the first death. I surely must be capable of saving them from a second death." — NPR interview, 2012
"This is what we must do – not to sleep well when people suffer anywhere in the world. Not to sleep well when someone’s persecuted. Not to sleep well when people are hungry all over here or there. Not to sleep well when there are people sick and nobody is there to help them. Not to sleep well when anyone somewhere needs you." William O. Douglas dinner, 2012. Watch the full speech:
"I come from a region, and from a land, and from a time when stories dominated our lives … when I was very, very small, the Biblical stories, the Talmudic stories, and later on the mystical stories. The Bible is not only laws, it’s also stories. It begins, 'In the beginning God created Heaven.' If I had written these words, I wouldn’t have written anything else, it’s just enough. 'In the beginning God created Heaven and earth.' It’s the beginning of a story. Who can do that today, really—to write such words? I have tremendous, tremendous love for stories." — The Daily Beast interview, 2012