Oprah: On your first night in the camp, you saw babies being thrown into the flames. Can you ever forgive those who killed the children?
Elie: Who am I to forgive? Only the children themselves could forgive. If I forgive, I should do it in their name. Otherwise, it is arrogant.
Oprah: Do Holocaust-like events continue to take place in our world?
Elie: I don't like to compare one atrocity to another. That would be demeaning to both.
Oprah: It's an insult to all those who were involved and sacrificed their lives.
Elie: It's an insult. Every tragedy is unique, just as every human is unique. When a person loses someone dear to her, who am I to say that my tragedy was greater? I have no right. For that person, her tragedy is the greatest in the world—and she is right in thinking so.
Oprah: By becoming a voice for those who are suffering, are you doing what the world did not do for Jews during the Holocaust?
Elie: I've gone everywhere, trying to stop so many atrocities: Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia. The least I can do is show the victims that they are not alone. When I went to Cambodia, journalists asked me, "What are you doing here? This is not a Jewish tragedy." I answered, "When I needed people to come, they didn't. That's why I am here."
Oprah: Is it our indifference and arrogance that makes us Americans feel that we are the center of the universe—that a mother's pain after losing her child in Bosnia or Nigeria isn't as important as our own pain?
Elie: I wouldn't generalize. There are people in America who are so sensitive. Whenever I meet young Americans abroad, they are there to help. A doctor in New York read a quote of mine that sparked her involvement. Somebody had asked me, "What is the most important commandment in the Bible?" and I said, "Thou shalt not stand idly by." So she packed up her office and went to Macedonia––I met her there.... We cannot free all the prisoners in the world or save all the victims of AIDS, but we can at least show them that we are with them. There is one thing that moves me to anger: the hunger of children. During every minute that you and I talk, Oprah, a child dies of starvation or disease or violence. While we talk!
Oprah: Is children's suffering what makes you the angriest?
Elie: Always—particularly the humiliation of children. That is the worst sin. When somebody humiliates a person or group, it breaks me––I become angry. In my tradition, humiliation is equivalent to murder.
Oprah: That reminds me of the story in your book about how your father was beaten down in the camp.
Elie: The very first night––an hour after our arrival.
We Hear You!