Fourteen years ago today, Elie Wiesel gave a speech at the White House as part of the Millennium Lecture Series titled “The Perils of Indifference.” You can read it here. I would strongly encourage you to read its entirety.
Many years ago I read “Night,” Wiesel’s book about his Holocaust experience. I have read many books on this topic but none shook me to the core as this one did.
There was no holding back, no reserve of anger carefully stored for later. He gave this reader no simplified synopsis of a horrific experience, no tight bow of conclusion, no hope for a future in a world where such things can happen.
Published in 1960, a mere fifteen years after the events of which he writes, I would have been surprised to find, as many other holocaust writers oddly provided, a reconciliation.
I found myself reading book after book of such atrocities, not by choice, but as an unwilling onlooker in a horrific accident, unable to turn away. Staring gape-mouthed at the unbelievable, I kept reading. Until one day I had to stop or be swallowed up by the darkness of it all.
Depressive by nature, I’ve known I can’t subject myself to so much sorrow, so much sadness. And yet, I had allowed myself the slow slide into hopelessness through my reading and study.
I climbed out of that depression, dragging behind me the weight of all I’d read, all the hurts I’d tried and tried not to empathize with.
When I came across his speech from fourteen years ago, I was interested to see what forty years had brought about.
He was still honest, he was still direct and his words still stung with some anger, but there was a difference.
The final paragraph spoke volumes. And the last five words of his speech, to say the very least, surprised me.
“I think of the young Jewish boy from the Carpathian Mountains. He has accompanied the old man I have become throughout these years of quest and struggle. And together we walk towards the new millennium, carried by profound fear and extraordinary hope.”
Elie Wiesel – April 12, 1999