The death of a great man

Associated Press photoElie Wiesel is photographed in his office in New York in 2012. Wiesel, the Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor has died. His death was announced July 2 by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

Much has been written about Elie Wiesel since his passing last weekend. Auschwitz survivor, Pulitzer Prize winning author and Nobel Peace Prize recipient; he thought of himself as a teacher, and oh what he taught the world.

Alan Dershowitz wrote “Elie did more to bring the word “human” into human rights than any person in modern history. For him, it did not matter whether the victims of genocide were Jews, Christians, Muslims, black, white, from the left, or from the right. Human rights were equally applicable to all… For Elie Wiesel, the worst sin was silence in the face of evil. The worst crime was indifference to genocide, and the worst people were those who stand idly by the blood of their neighbors”

In 2000, I was honored to bring Elie Wiesel to Northwest Indiana to speak at the Sinai Forum. I got a sense of the man before the program when he came to my home for dinner. He spoke to me of having had his son later in life and how he was desperate to be a grandfather! When I asked if his son was a writer and teacher like his father, his face lit up as he told me that his son had mastered the kind of disciplines that he could not.

His son was a financial whiz, a computer expert and the father spoke with such pride and obvious love. It was as if he were reveling in the knowledge that his son had grown up in the huge shadow that he cast and yet was able to step out of it and accomplish so much in his own light.

He was small in stature, had a rather ashen complexion and looked as if the burdens of the world were carried upon his shoulders. Though soft spoken, he had the capacity to generate an intensity that grabbed you, holding you rapt in awe and then in the very next moment, with index finger to his cheek and a hint of a crooked smile appearing on his face; he had you joyfully laughing.

He spent quite a while with my daughter discussing her impending move to France to study painting. She said he only wanted to discuss what her hopes and dreams were for her future and he told her that she was doing the right thing “because all great painters should live, at least for a while, in France.”

And I marvelled at this great man taking the time to quietly discuss my daughter’s future with her, listening to her and supporting her plans. It was amazing.

At the Forum there was total silence in the auditorium for his entire program only interrupted by spurts of spontaneous laughter brought about by his subtle wit. He spoke of the nature of man, of the necessity to nurture the humanity within us all. His quiet wisdom permeated his talk and made you feel as if that wisdom came from some ancient, sacred place and was being given directly to you.

After his program people said they had never been so moved.

Oh yes, the world has lost a truly great man.

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