Remembering Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel passed today. For those of you who might not be familiar with him or his work, I encourage you to look him up. Here I will share that he was Romanian-born, Holocaust survivor, writer, professor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and American.
He was also concentration camp prisoner number “A-7713”. At age 15 Wiesel, his parents and his three sisters entered a concentration camp in what was then Sighetu Marmației, Wiesel’s very hometown. Ultimately only he and two of his sisters would survive the Holocaust.
Elie Wiesel passed today and I feel that I’ve lost a friend, a companion, a mentor. In 1980 I was 9 years old and I lost both my parents and my three sisters in a tragic accident, of which I was the sole survivor. At that age, there is hardly understanding the sense and logic of a world where your parents and family disappear overnight. I felt angry, alone– terribly unprotected and misunderstood.
I don’t blame anyone, it would be years before I learned to be those things, protective and compassionate to myself. After the loss of my family, I survived those first years by living in a fortress of intellect, literature, and learning. Both my parents were university professors, and acquiring knowledge was what I knew to do. Then one day, just a few short years after becoming so instantaneously alone, I came across the book, “Night” by Elie Wiesel– and suddenly I had companionship.
Just like that, in the pages of this book I found sisters, brothers, parents and grandparents– all partnered with me in the unimaginable pain of senseless loss and the threat of hopelessness. I don’t pretend to compare my situation to that of living through the Holocaust. But for a then 11-12 year old child who had yet to developed the emotional skill of languaging her Trauma, Wiesel’s book conveyed to me a story I could feel in my own heavy heart.
There is so much more to say about this man from whom I learned about forgiveness, purpose. and meaning. But my own words will fail in comparison to his, and so I share:
I am pessimistic because I don’t trust history. But at the same time, I am optimistic. Out of despair, one creates. What else can one do? There is no good reason to go on living, but you must go on living. There is no good reason to bring a child into this world but you must have children to give the world a new innocence, a new reason to aspire towards innocence. As Camus said, in a world of unhappiness, you must create happiness.”
RIP Elie Weisel– with so much love and gratitude.