I never met Elie Wiesel…

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About The Author

Lindsay J. Friedman

Since 2014, Lindsay J. Friedman has managed the Echoes and Reflections Partnership on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League, USC Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem. In this role, she brings two decades of experience in non-profit management, program development, and training, with the majority of her professional life dedicated to developing and leading initiatives that promote social justice, anti-bias education, and intergroup relations in PreK-12 settings. Friedman holds a B.A. in History from Northwestern University and M. Ed from the University of Vermont in Burlington.

07/08/2016

I felt such a sense of loss on Saturday when I heard the news of Elie Wiesel’s death. It felt so personal and profound. I never met Elie Wiesel, but I felt as if had lost someone I knew, someone I cared for, someone who, perhaps on some ridiculous level, I thought would always be here.

I have been so moved reading the tributes to him from those who knew him – as a friend, a teacher, or a speaker who forever changed their lives. I have enjoyed seeing friends and colleague post photos of their proud moments shaking his hand, looking at him so intently, listening for a word of wisdom or insight, which was no doubt plentiful.

For me, who has spent many years working in anti-bias education and now in Holocaust education, his presence was ubiquitous. I think how often he is quoted in my circle – about the dangers of indifference, the precious gift of a life saved, about being a witness. I recall first reading Night in college: actually not wanting to read it, but feeling a duty to not look away, not to ignore the world that was lost and the cruelty of humanity. Now, at Echoes and Reflections, we offer a program and resources to support teachers in their teaching of Night, and we hear continuously how profound this reading is for students and what it means to teachers to teach his memoir, which can be difficult to grasp. However, they feel a sense of duty to get it right – to do him justice, to use his voice to give voice for the millions who lost theirs.

In some ways, I suppose it is all of these moments that make this loss feel so personal. Elie Wiesel somehow managed to share the worst possible moments of his ruptured childhood with us. He brought us with him on this tortured path of trauma and loss, and the absolute worst of man’s inhumanity to man. Yet in his survival – in his dedication to being a witness to the history, to challenging our continued indifference to hatred, racism, bigotry, and his commitment to the world – to life – he carried with him, and perhaps for all of us, a suggestion of hope for a better future. Right now, the world feels more fractured than ever, but I say this without having lived through the Holocaust, so I know this is just one moment in time, my moment in time, to try to make a bit of difference. What will I do with it? What will we all do?

As we feel the impact of his loss, please share your reflections, your thoughts, Elie Wiesel’s impact on your teaching, and your feelings about his legacy with our educator community.

8 comments

  1. I feel very honored to have met Elie Wiesel in May 2012 when The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education hosted him in Cincinnati. As a Holocaust educator, Echoes and Reflections trainer, and human rights advocate he inspired the work that we do everyday.

    He was a voice for the millions who lost their lives in the Holocaust and his advocacy reminds us all to continue standing up against bigotry, hate, and prejudice of all kinds.

    Thank you, Professor Wiesel for showing me what it truly means to bear witness. May your story of honor and resilience live on in each of us and may your memory always be a blessing.

  2. Shira Liff-Grieff says:

    Elie Wiesel, his life, and all that he stood for in his advocacy and his refusal to allow the world to forget the crimes of the Holocaust will continue to inspire generations to come.

    As educators and as people, Wiesel’s bravery in sharing his story and his insistence at taking an active stance in defense of people’s dignity around the world, reminds us of our collective obligation to continue his work and ensure that we uphold a sense of responsibility in ourselves and instill that sensitivity in our students.

    May his memory be a blessing.

  3. Dunreith Kelly Lowenstein says:

    I, too, felt a deep sense of loss upon hearing of Elie Wiesel’s death. He felt so much a part of my understanding of the importance of bearing witness and sharing testimony to the Holocaust and he himself did so much to remind all of us of the dangers of indifference. I, also found solace and gained wisdom from the outpouring of anecdotes and reflections after his death. I loved Julius Lester’s observations, of which the following is a sample, so relevant to the times we are in today as a nation and as a world. . “What I learned through Wiesel was a toughness of spirit I was not used to finding in religious writing, a toughness of spirit I found useful as I struggled to learn how to deal with the suffering that had been inflicted on me by a white society that elevated itself at the expense of those of us who were not white.”

    Elie Wiesel also encouraged fellow survivors to tell their stories. As a result, Netty Schwarz Vanderpol was finally able to testify about her experience as a Dutch Jew through creating a series of twenty breathtaking needlepoints. The needlepoint project not only enabled Netty to find a way to bear witness to the atrocities she saw and personally experienced, it also helped her to deal with the trauma she had been holding for over thirty years. I thank Elie Wiesel for giving this gift of responsibility to bear witness to Netty.

    Thank you also to you Lindsay for the work you do to continue to educate teachers across the country about the Holocaust.

  4. Ariel K says:

    I also did not know Elie Wiesel personally, but he’s been an enormous part of my life, personally and professionally, for a long time.

    Growing up, there were only a few survivor accounts that I knew well: my grandfather, uncle, and Elie Wiesel. These accounts propelled my study in college, and my passion for Holocaust education at present.

    I know that Elie Wiesel’s legacy will live on with me, with all of us, and with the many students that we reach with Holocaust education.

  5. “Crossing paths with Professor Elie Wiesel” – It was at City College of NY, in Prof. Elie Wiesel’s classes, that I connected the dots of how the Holocaust effected my mother and me. I see him clearly, slender and frail but determined, he taught us with great urgency. The horrors he lived through were visible on his face.

    Wiesel’s horrors triggered my childhood memories, of growing up with the ghosts of my mother’s murdered family. My childhood in Poland now made sense. I understood that in losing her entire family my mother could not escape her past. When I told Wiesel about my mother, he said, “Your mother must write her story. Future generations must know.” It was a great risk to her sanity and health to reenter her unbearable past, but for the sake of the truth my mother wrote. She bravely brought her family and her Jewish life from before the war back to Life. For the next six years I entered my mother’s world, and I met the ghosts of my childhood. Wiesel’s advice to me, “do not be afraid of the journey ahead.”

    My Mother’s living document became a book, “Memory is Our Home”, published in 2015 and in Poland, in Polish, May 2016, Pamjec jest Naszym Domem.

  6. I am deeply thankful for the body of work that Elie Wiesel left the world, a body of work that challenges each of us to grapple with the complexity and sorrow of the Holocaust. I don’t think anyone can read a text like “Night” and not carry it with him/her; it sits on your heart and makes you think about what kind of person you want to be and what kind of world you want to leave to future generations.

    Like so many of the survivors that I have had the honor of meeting or learning about through memoirs, diaries, and testimony, Elie Wiesel’s story is a constant reminder of the resilience of the human spirit, the dangers of being a bystander, and the role that each of us must play each and every day through our words and actions to help heal the world.

    I have often been asked why I do this work. My answer is deeply influenced by the words of Elie Wiesel, “Not to transmit an experience is to betray it.” Those words have never had more meaning to me than with the passing of Elie Wiesel. May his memory always be a blessing to all of us and may we continue to learn from his experiences, his words, and his actions. His passing has left an empty space that we must find a way to fill with all that is good.

  7. Jennifer L Goss says:

    I first encountered Elie Weisel as an undergrad when he visited my university and I had the luck to escort him through a part of our campus. His grace and kindness stunned me after all, the only thing I really knew about him at that point was that he had survived an awful era and wrote a touching memoir about his experiences. His follow-up reply to a thank you letter I wrote changed the course of my life.

    There is not a semester that goes by or a workshop that I facilitate that I don’t think of him and I know that will never change. His words have changed the lives of many and I know we can continue to expand his impact as we go about our work.

    May his memory be a blessing.

  8. Susan Schinleber says:

    More than any other survivor, Elie Wiesel commanded us to glimpse the horror of what happened to millions of people during the Holocaust. In his public appearances, it was clear to all who met him that the horror never left him and that he lived on with a profound sense of obligation to those who did not. His books automatically evoke words such as “testimony” and “witness”, solemn words that resonate with legal and religious implications. When we read “Night” with our students, they grasp at once the solemnity and authenticity of what he is saying-and they cannot forget what they have read. His words live on with them. It is clear that the burden he carried with him all his life would be too much weight for most, and yet he carried it with grace and urgency, knowing that the world is all too ready to ignore, deny, or forget what it does not want to acknowledge. The test now will be to determine to what extent we heard him and will carry on his work. To honor his life and work, we must never forget.



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