Elie Wiesel: ‘The answer is education ... and memory’

Holocaust survivor, Peace Prize winner talks to local high school and college students.

“I don’t like the yelling, I believe in whispers,” said the author and human rights activist who came to town Thursday, March 25 at the invitation of the University of Dayton. “I never raise my voice, it doesn’t help. King Solomon said if you speak softly you’ll be heard.”

That was certainly the case Thursday as the world’s most widely known Holocaust survivor met with the press, high school and college students, and 2,300 members of the local community as the featured speaker at UD’s Diversity Lecture series.

Topics throughout the day ranged from God and the Holocaust to Darfur and the current state of air travel.

When asked to name the politicians who inspire him, Wiesel admitted none does.

“I’m inspired by philosophers, by students, by an unknown beggar I meet in the street,” he responded. “Once upon a time politics was a noble endeavor, today politics is ambition for power and I don’t trust power.”

Sitting in a rocking chair during a press conference, Wiesel, 82, said he continues to teach full-time at Boston University and feels obliged to continue his lifelong mission.

“How can I stop?” asked the Nobel Peace Prize winner. “There are so many injustices in the world that it would be immoral not to take a stand. We live in such strange times. Today I’m bothered by the resurgence among the extreme right in our country. Some people call our president ‘Hitler!’ My God!”

The Nobel Laureate has written 50 books including his most famous, “Night,” a recounting of his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. One student wondered if Wiesel still has his concentration camp number and if it serves as a reminder of those terrible experiences.

“I don’t need that to remember, I think about my past every day,” he responded. “But I still have it on my arm – A7713. At that time, we were numbers. No names, no identity.”

When asked what he would say to a Holocaust denier, Wiesel said he would say nothing. “I don’t want to be in the same room with a Holocaust denier. They are morally deranged.”

The best way to fix the world, he believes, is through education and through memory. When asked about the Arab-Israeli conflict, Wiesel said that he believes in a two-state solution and will visit Gaza when he travels to Israel next week for the Passover holiday.

Students from the Dayton Early College Academy who attended Wiesel’s afternoon session said they were surprised at his sense of humor and his willingness to answer every question candidly. Some came clutching his books.

“He said life isn’t about the number of years you live, but about the moments you have,” said 15-year-old Brittany Jones. “Just being able to talk to him is a great moment in my life.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2440 or mmoss @DaytonDailyNews.com.

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