This post was written by our administrative assistant Audrey Zada who is also an alumna of our program from cohort I.
His words taught generations of people to be empathetic, respectful and to care about this horrific part of his life. Everyone I knew read Night in high school, and through Wiesel’s story became connected to at least a small part of the Holocaust.
I chose to study at Boston University for my undergraduate degree so I could be a part of the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies, and as a junior I had the priceless privilege of taking a course with Professor Wiesel. The class was held in a beautiful library in a converted brownstone, and a small group of students sat around a large elegant table with Professor Wiesel standing at its head. Each week we read one of his fiction novels and discussed it with him. It was magical. I learned so much about literature and humanity, and was in absolute awe of him.
He talked to us about how he decided to include certain characters, and the people from his childhood they were based on, welcoming us all into such personal parts of his life. Everything he said seemed to have more meaning than I could grasp, but he made us all feel comfortable enough to ask him all kinds of questions about his books and life.
I remember one day someone asked him if he ever thought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be resolved. With a hopeful smile he said “In my lifetime I saw Auschwitz be created and destroyed. We cannot imagine what can happen while we are here.”
He is famous for his endless accomplishments, and I think most well known for his insistence that we consider ourselves witnesses to the memory of the Holocaust, a concept now immortalized because of his influence on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He taught us that indifference was more dangerous than hatred and anger, and in class he applied this to all of the atrocities of our lifetime.
Professor Wiesel’s discourse on indifference is what led me to pursue my MA in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa, and to write my thesis about the bystander. His words were with me every step of the way, and now as a member of the MA program’s staff, his picture sits on my desk, overseeing all the work we do here.
Seeing our current students and alumni react to his passing is like watching a community grieve the loss of a family member. I know I’m not the only who came here with a quote of his written in the cover of a notebook, inspired and ready to preserve the memory of the Holocaust because of his influence.
It’s hard to believe he’s gone because his words and books will continue to influence humanity for generations, but the sense of loss is there. So many of the people who apply to our program do so with hopes of making a difference in this world like Professor Wiesel did. Because of him I refuse to be indifferent. I refuse to forget his story, his baby sister Tzipora he mourned so deeply for, and the wisdom and kindness he shared with the world.
Our program wishes to thank him for helping to establish the study of the Holocaust as one that pursues the betterment of humanity and promotes social justice.