Last night I had the opportunity to hear Elie Wiesel speak at Bryant University. Brought to the University by the Student Arts and Speaker Series, the lecture was free and open to the public.
It's hard for me to characterize what I think of Professor Wiesel. Admiration seems too small a word. I am definitely in awe of where he has been, what he as seen and what he has and continues to accomplish. That I had the opportunity to see and hear him speak in person is still unbelievable to me. As I expected, the lecture was full.
Professor Wiesel is 81 years old. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, he is an author, professor, political activist and Holocaust survivor. His biography is extensive. For that you can go here, and I highly recommend that you do because his life from birth in a small town in what is now Romania until today is extraordinary.
Last night he entered the stage to a standing ovation. Sitting at the front of the stage at a small table with only a microphone, he spoke for nearly an hour during which he held the attention of a rapt audience and then took a handful of questions.
Summarizing what he said during that hour is very difficult. I went in thinking I knew what he was going to talk about but he touched on so many different topics, I don't know where to begin. A professor at Boston University, it felt very much like we were sitting in a lecture class.
He referred to his time in the concentration camps during World War II (read his book "Night"), told stories of meeting with Presidents, speaking at the United Nations, and one particularly fascinating story of a conference in Oslo in 1990 when he took Nelson Mandela and a proponent of apartheid by the arms and put them in a room together with the direction "talk to each other."
He spoke of being a member of an 'endangered generation,' and that he worries that the world is going to forget what happened in World War II. And, of course, the history of the Holocaust must never be forgotten. Professor Wiesel is also a Bible scholar. One statement from last night that will stay with me forever was his suggestion of an 11th Commandment which would be "Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By."
Shortly after being awarded the Nobel prize, he and his wife, Marion established The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. On the website, the foundation's mission is to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogues and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality.
A message to everyone and something we should all strive for daily.
Image courtesy of Google.