Saturday, June 6, 2009

Elie Wiesel at Buchenwald: “Will the World Ever Learn?”

Several years ago, I began a presentation to my local church with these words:

It may seem odd at first glance to bring together a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans about love and not returning evil for evil with a reading from Elie Wiesel’s novel, The Gates of the Forest. The holocaust is a symbol of evil that for most of us remains beyond our powers of comprehension. How can we ever hope to overcome such evil with good?

I read The Gates of the Forest for the first time a couple of weeks ago. For years I had avoided reading Wiesel’s works and other major holocaust literature because I was afraid. I feared I would be overwhelmed by the enormity of the suffering and be swallowed up by despair. I was not.

Out of the depth and breadth of his soul, Wiesel’s words overcome the evil of the holocaust. As someone else has remarked, The Gates of the Forest is “shot through with a strange humor of forgiveness.”

Wiesel has never ceased confronting evil. He did so again just yesterday. Rachel Sklar reports:

Today, Holocaust survivor, "Night" author and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel joined President Barack Obama at the site of Buchenwald, one of Nazi Germany's terrible concentration camps, to speak out against indifference and humanity's inability to learn from its own worst moments. "Memory has become a sacred duty of goodwill," said Wiesel, but he worried that "the world hasn't learned."

Wiesel went back to his time in Buchenwald as a prisoner, described watching his father die there, and wondered what he would say to him now: "What can I tell him? That the world has learned? I am not sure."

Said Wiesel: "Had the world learned, there would be no Cambodia, no Rwanda, no Darfur, no Bosnia. Will the world ever learn?"

Seeing Elie Wiesel there at Buchenwald, returning as one of the world's great moral leaders to the place that forced him down that path, flanked on one side by Angela Merkel, the leader of the country that once put him there, and on the other by Obama, the first black U.S. President in a place representing the absolute worst evils of racism; that was an amazing moment. But moments must be followed up by more moments, and action.

Concerned that the Wiesel Foundation for Humanity had lost $15.2 million under management with Bernard Madoff Investment Securities, Sklar said, “So — if you want to take action — then you can take a moment....and donate to the Elie Wisel Foundation. The sacred duty of memory starts here.”

She concluded:

One more quote from Wiesel:

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference."

Don't be indifferent. It just takes a moment.

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