One-on-One with Elie Wiesel
Professor Wiesel's autobiographical account of his experiences in the Auschwitz death camp during World War II has touched readers for decades. After Oprah chose his book Night as an Oprah's Book Club selection, she announced a national high school essay contest. Thousands of high school students answered the call to read Night and write about why Elie Wiesel's book is relevant today.
Professor Wiesel has read the winning entries and shares his thoughts on the overwhelming response from young people. "They do give me hope," Professor Wiesel says. "But they need hope. I travel around, I teach, I live amongst children. And what they need most is hope."
As the founding chairman for the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Professor Wiesel says his motto was, "For the dead and the living, we must remember." He says this message is especially important for today's youth.
"It's a bit too late for all of us that were there—we are an endangered species," says Professor Wiesel. "It's not too late for these young people. This is for [them] that I and my peers have been writing and testifying and shouting and whispering."
Professor Wiesel says his request was granted. "What you have done was show respect there—not [just] of me, but of the place," he says. "After all, that place became the most cursed place in history because of the killers, but the most sacred place because of the victims."
One such atrocity took place in the early '90s. For four years, the world stood silent while Bosnian Serbs methodically murdered over 200,000 Muslim civilians. Throughout this ethnic cleansing operation, Serbs forced Muslim men and boys into makeshift concentration camps. Women and girls were repeatedly raped. Serbs rounded up 8,000 men and boys and brutally executed them. In retaliation, after years of inaction, U.S.-led NATO forces bombed Serbian bases, putting an end to the carnage.
Despite worldwide intelligence about this large-scale massacre, virtually all developed nations, including the United States, failed to intervene.
After United States policy in the region failed to stop the bloodshed, President Bush recently called for a doubling of international troops as the killing continues.
Professor Wiesel cites a Biblical commandment that he feels the world must take to heart if there is to be change. "In Hebrew it's called Lo taamod al dam réakha—Thou shall not stand idly by when the blood of your fellow human being is being shed," says Professor Wiesel. "[We] have no right to stand idly by."