Elie Wiesel and the essay contest winners

Professor Elie Wiesel is a renowned author, scholar and Holocaust survivor who has inspired millions of readers around the world. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, Professor Wiesel has dedicated his life to speaking out against hatred, bigotry and genocide.

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."
Elie Wiesel

Why does Professor Wiesel think Night is relevant today? "Truth is something that cannot be forgotten, and this is one of those events that are a part of the fabric of truth," Professor Wiesel says. "Truth about everything, truth about truth, truth about humanity, truth about God's and man's relationship—everything. And lo and behold, if you forget it, then who knows what could happen."

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."
Elie Wiesel and Oprah

Professor Wiesel and Oprah traveled to Poland where they walked the grounds of Auschwitz together. Oprah reminds Professor Wiesel of the special request he made before the unforgettable visit. "You'd said to the camera crew and the producers who were with us that there would be no second takes," Oprah says. "That we needed to move with a sense of reverence and allow the silence to break through."

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."
Crisis in former Yugoslavia

As an activist, Professor Wiesel has fought some of humanity's most horrific acts. When the Holocaust ended over 60 years ago, the world said "Never again." Yet crimes against humanity continue.

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.
Crisis in Rwanda

In 1994, the world stood by again as another genocide exploded in Africa. For 100 blood-soaked days, Rwanda's Hutu majority systematically slaughtered 800,000 minority Tutsis. Tutsi men, women and children were literally hacked to death with machetes and piled into the roads.

Despite worldwide intelligence about this large-scale massacre, virtually all developed nations, including the United States, failed to intervene.
Crisis in Darfur

In Sudan's Darfur region, human history repeats itself. The Janjaweed militia, an Arabic group supported by the Sudanese government, is systematically murdering the region's black tribes. The militia's goal is to exterminate all non-Arab citizens. So far, hundreds of thousands have been murdered. Two million more have been savagely forced from their homes. The refugees now face starvation and every single day, armed groups gang rape women and girls as young as four years old.

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.
Elie Wiesel and Oprah Winfrey

For several years, Professor Wiesel has spoken out against the current crisis in Sudan's Darfur region. He says it is the responsibility of world leaders and the international community to intervene. "It's an outrage because we must stop it and we can stop it by sending international forces led by America."

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."
FROM: The 50 Young People Oprah Wants You to Meet
Published on May 25, 2006


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