Elie Wiesel: A decorated hero for the Persecuted



Mr Wiesel died on 3 July 2016 in his home in Manhattan aged 87.

Few months ago, I first read Elie’s Wiesel  autobiographical book ‘The Night’ which is about his excruciating early experiences of Holocaust, etched on his mind as a 15 year old young boy. Captured and taken into the concentration camps in Nazi Germany, he was deprived of everything he held dear in his life. The loss of his immediate family members, dignity and above all his humanness. Having survived the Holocaust,  It later became his passion to speak out against the persecution which he continued to do so until his death. He argued that why during the Holocaust in Nazi Germany which killed 6 million Jews remained a silent story? How can we tolerate such an intolerance?

His sense of loss, anger, anguish,guilt and bitterness exude through his words:

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed,” Mr. Wiesel wrote. “Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.”

The original manuscript of ‘The Night’ was written in Yiddish. It  was 800 pages long, later an abridged version was printed in French language ‘La Nuit’.

‘The Night’ became one of the most heart-wrenching stories I read in my life, the pain and agony encapsulated in the life of Elie Wiesel gives a reader a sense of contentment about one’s own life, no matter how tumultuous circumstance are around our lives, there is something to appreciate. ‘The Night’ became the expression of Mr Wiesel’s rebellion against God, his faith as well as to the causes of injustice, inequalities and persecution which became the pegs of the Nazi Germany death machine.

Mr Wiesel, became the decorated hero for the persecuted who received countless honours and awards from governments and institutions around the world. He also received a Nobel Prize in 1986 for his role in speaking against persecution, violence, repression and racism. He is also the recipient of more than 100 honourary doctorates.

Mr Wiesel remained a life-long advocate for human rights issues. He served on International Council for the Human Rights where he raised the South African Apartied, Argentinian ‘disappearance’ policy in the dirty war and the Bosnian genocide. He also gave hearing in front of UN Security Council to speak about Darfur humanitarian Crisis in September, 2006. Being the head of the Elie Wiesal Foundation which was established to raise horrors around the world and to promote dialogue on issues which cause divisions and deaths.

So rarely a single life has touched the hearts of millions with its soul-searching account that perpetuated the memory of Holocaust than Elie Wiesel. The Noble Prize Committee while conferring the honour noted;

“Wiesel is a messenger to mankind. His message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief.”

Wiesel is survived by his wife Marion, their son Shlomo Elisha Wiesel, and his stepdaughter Jennifer and two grandchildren.

The Wiesel legacy is to ‘speak the unspeakable’ and to be the ‘voice the voiceless’. The challenge though looks insurmountable for us in 21st century in midst of countless wide-raged conflicts in and around the world yet the very ‘mission’ has been meticulously executed by Mr Wiesel himself.  A real hero of our times whose life example can be a road map for everyone, from being a meaningless existence in a concentration camp to a meaningful and abundant life outside of it.

Photo0126Shahid Khan is the vice-chairperson of Global Minorities Alliance. He tweets @shahidshabaz