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Oprah: If a person were to take a train to Auschwitz, would he or she ever be the same after seeing the camp?

Elie: You cannot be the same.

Oprah: And just by seeing the camps, can any of us ever really know what the Holocaust was like?

Elie: I don't think so. Only those who were there know. But we can take you in with us, and you would know more. You would come to the gate, and you would know a lot. But when you've actually experienced it, every cell of your being is different. What we lived through is beyond language. If you and I were to go to the camps right now, you would come out a different person—wounded from seeing and being with someone who was there. At once wounded and enriched.

Oprah: And is every person who did survive proof that the human spirit can triumph over anything?

Elie: It's hard to say. Some people survived because they wanted to, Oprah. I did not [want to survive]. As long as my father was alive, I wanted to live—but only because of him. After he died, between the end of January and April [of the year we were released], I didn't really live.

Oprah: So you became a nonperson?

Elie: We were all nonpersons. I wish I could say that I wanted to live to tell the tale. But it wasn't important then.

Oprah: You have no answer for why you went on living?

Elie: I have no answer for anything, really. I have shelves and shelves of books in my apartment, but none of them has answers—only questions. I teach my students how to ask questions. In the word question, there is a beautiful word—quest. I love that word. We are all partners in a quest.

Oprah: And is there an answer for every question?

Elie: The essential questions have no answers. You are my question, and I am yours—and then there is dialogue. The moment we have answers, there is no dialogue. Questions unite people, answers divide them. So why have answers when you can live without them?

Oprah: Elie, do you think all experiences are meant to teach us about ourselves?

Elie: Absolutely.

Oprah: Do you have any regrets about the way you've chosen to live?

Elie: Not doing enough. For example, I wish I had done more for the Palestinian refugees. I regret that.

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