Elie Wiesel was a Romanian-born American Jew, writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor. He authored 57 books including NIGHT, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald death camps. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, he was praised as a messenger to mankind”, stating that through his struggle to come to terms with “his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler’s death camps”, as well as his “practical work in the cause of peace”. He delivered a message “of peace, atonement, and human dignity” to humanity.
I had heard about him all my life. We were born in the same town, Seghat, which is near Transylvania. His words, his thoughts, his search for meaning touched the world like few others. I had the great privilege of filming him in New York. When I was producing the film “Expulsion & Memory”, I met him in ’92 at the King’s Palace in Spain following a tribute he made to peace and tolerance for the historic 500th year Commemoration of the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain. It is my privilege to share with you some of his thoughts that he so generously shared with me.
When I asked him about tolerance, he said “I don’t use the word “tolerance” because it’s condescending. I fight against intolerance, but I don’t want to fight for tolerance. I would rather fight for respect. I want to be respected the way I respect others. I respect the other for his or her otherness.”
“Let them answer. I don’t hate. They hated me before I was born.”
“The anti-Semite is he or she who hates the Jews before they are born. They are hating Jews who they have never met. Never met me. Most of them have probably never read anything by me, yet they hate me because I am Jewish. And all the contradictions converge into that anti-Semitism, into that hatred.
Rwanda was a blemish on the conscience of humanity, the United Nations, America, Canada, all of us. All these governments have reasons to regret, to feel remorse because we could have saved from 600,000 or 800,000 men, women, and children, and we didn’t.
America, should be the leader, but not the only one. When it comes to human rights, all governments should not only be concerned, but should be mobilized to help. Help whom? The victims. Always listen to the victims. Don’t listen to the victimizer. Listen to the victims. If you only listen to the victimizer, then they lie, and they always lie, and they threaten, and they always threaten. Listen to the victims. They need not only our support, but at least our presence.
What kind of world are we bequeathing unto our children? Once again, fanaticism is dangerous, and it’s increasingly dangerous wherever it gains power. Of course, its victims are numerous, but we’re all potential victims. In the beginning, wars were between nations given frontiers, and only those who were directly in contact were threatened. Then, with the bombing through the Second World War, civilians everywhere were threatened. Today, we are all threatened. You take a bus in Jerusalem, you take the subway in London, wherever you are, you are threatened. Threatened by fanatics who believe that whatever they are doing, they are doing for the sake and the glory of God. And poor God if this is what they do to please Him.”