Elie Wiesel somehow survived the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. For twenty years, he wrote books and articles about his horrific experience, but was basically ignored by American public opinion. That changed in 1967. Read more.
The Ottawa Citizen was only one of many Canadian newspapers who did full page articles on Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, the Romanian-born Holocaust survivor who died on July 2nd at age 87. For more than half a century, Wiesel’s prolific stream of speeches, essays and books emerged from the helplessness of a teenager whose family was deported from Hungary to Auschwitz and later, Buchenwald.
Tattooed with the number A-7713, he was freed in 1945 — but only after his mother, father and one sister had all died. Two other sisters survived.
However, for two decades, Wiesel and other Holocaust survivors were all but ignored in America, which (like Canada) still was under the influence of antisemitism, and which looked on Jewish Israel and its kibbutz movement as a dangerous manifestation of socialism.
Wiesel’s best known book, “Night,” was published in English in the USA in 1960. It was a powerful novel based on the incredible experiences he suffered in Auschwitz.
But in a 2002 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Wiesel recalled that the book attracted little notice at first. “The English translation came out in 1960, and the first printing was 3,000 copies. And it took three years to sell them”.
All that changed after the ’67 war, however. Having handily beaten the Arab states who were supported by the Soviet Union, Israel became almost overnight an important American ally. Suddenly, talk about the Holocaust and the need to defend Israel against the Arabs became fashionable. Wiesel was wined and dined across the USA. He was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.
Wiesel came out of his Holocaust experience with a fierce determination to see that nothing similar could ever happen to Jews again. Its easy to understand why.
Unfortunately, as many of his critics have pointed out, this led him to a blind fixation on defending Israel, and ignoring the evils that the new State of Israel was inflicting on the Palestinian population – which had had nothing to do with the Holocaust.
“As a child of Holocaust survivors—both my parents survived Auschwitz—I am appalled by your anti-Palestinian position, one I know you have long held. I have always wanted to ask you, why? What crime have Palestinians committed in your eyes?” wondered Harvard University professor Sara Roy.
“Those who explored the depths of the Holocaust were a great and deeply flawed generation”, wrote Jewish theologian Mark Ellis on hearing of Wiesel’s passing. “With reference to their hawkish stands on Israel, Wiesel and other Holocaust commentators simply did not understand what they had become involved in. Once an insurgent in Jewish life by insisting on the overriding importance of the Holocaust, in his later years, Wiesel became a cheerleader for an apartheid Israel and American military sanctions and intervention in the Middle East, all revolving around his support for Israel,” continued Ellis.
In his remarks at the 1986 Nobel prize giving ceremony, Wiesel had this to say. “Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Ironically, and tragically, Wiesel himself remained silent in the face of the suffering and humiliation inflicted by Israeli Jews on the Palestinians.
Comments? I see a positive and a negative side to Wiesel. I admire his determination to force the west to remember the horrors of the Holocaust, especially in the first 20 years when few wanted to listen. But I profoundly regret that his tunnel vision made him unable to feel any sympathy for the Palestinians. Disagree? Let me know.