Tuesday 5 July 2016

If this is a man

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. 
Sometimes we must interfere.
Elie Wiesel
Eliezar Wiesel died this last weekend at the age of 87. Such terrible things happened in his teenage years, that he didn't expect to survive until he was old enough to vote. Born in Romania, his whole community was first banged up in a ghetto and then, when Elie was 15, shipped to Auschwitz and Buchenwald [L 26/04/1945 less than a week after liberation; Wiesel's head and dog bowl circled]. They used their bowls as pillows to minimise the likelihood of loss. No bowl, no soup; no soup, no chance.  His younger sister and both parents were consumed by the holocaust. He was 16 when the war ended and spent the next several years in a French orphanage, where he was reunited with two older sisters. He started living in the USA in 1955 and shortly after that started to write about his grim experiences in the 1940s.

The thing I like about Wiesel was that nobody could call him a one-trick pony: going on about Shoah and the extermination of the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. He saw that as an injustice, of course, but was able to apply his sense of Right to other oppressed groups: Los Desaparecidos in Argentina; South African apartheid; Bosnian genocide; the Kurds; Darfur, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Iran, Sri Lanka. He took sides (see topside quote) in all of these conflicts; sure that he knew where Right was not prevailing.  A lot of people agreed with his assessment and it landed him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. "Elie Wiesel has emerged as one of the most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterise the world. Wiesel is a messenger to mankind; his message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity."
The Peace Prize is a bit iffy; as Tom Lehrer said "Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize."  But Wiesel is also a Grand Croix de la Légion d'honneur and a Knight of the most excellent order of the British Empire and has built up a drawerful [N=90+] of honorary degrees: not all of them from colleges in the USA and Israel. Without wishing, in any way, to disparage his contribution to righteousness, I gut a feeling of bandwagonism with so many awards and honorary degrees.  It's easier to pay tribute to holocaust survivors than to look into the injustice and hatred in our own hearts, our own community. The Title is reference to a book by Primo Levi [bloboprev]. More Shoah: Huguenots save Jews in France.

1 comment:

  1. That quote at the top is a perfect one for us to remember