Elie Wiesel's speech in Buchenwald

Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel spoke at Buchenwald today, standing with president Obama and chancellor Merkel. A must read: 

As I came here today it was actually a way of coming and visit my father’s grave — but he had no grave.  His grave is somewhere in the sky.  This has become in those years the largest cemetery of the Jewish people.

The day he died was one of the darkest in my life.  He became sick, weak, and I was there.  I was there when he suffered.  I was there when he asked for help, for water.  I was there to receive his last words.  But I was not there when he called for me, although we were in the same block; he on the upper bed and I on the lower bed.  He called my name, and I was too afraid to move.  All of us were.  And then he died.  I was there, but I was not there.


And I thought one day I will come back and speak to him, and tell him of the world that has become mine.  I speak to him of times in which memory has become a sacred duty of all people of good will — in America, where I live, or in Europe or in Germany, where you, Chancellor Merkel, are a leader with great courage and moral aspirations.

What can I tell him that the world has learned?  I am not so sure.  Mr. President, we have such high hopes for you because you, with your moral vision of history, will be able and compelled to change this world into a better place, where people will stop waging war — every war is absurd and meaningless; where people will stop hating one another; where people will hate the otherness of the other rather than respect it.

But the world hasn’t learned.  When I was liberated in 1945, April 11, by the American army, somehow many of us were convinced that at least one lesson will have been learned — that never again will there be war; that hatred is not an option, that racism is stupid; and the will to conquer other people’s minds or territories or aspirations, that will is meaningless.

I was so hopeful.  Paradoxically, I was so hopeful then.  Many of us were, although we had the right to give up on humanity, to give up on culture, to give up on education, to give up on the possibility of living one’s life with dignity in a world that has no place for dignity.

We rejected that possibility and we said, no, we must continue believing in a future, because the world has learned.  But again, the world hasn’t.  Had the world learned, there would have been no Cambodia and no Rwanda and no Darfur and no Bosnia.

Will the world ever learn?  I think that is why Buchenwald is so important — as important, of course, but differently as Auschwitz.  It’s important because here the large — the big camp was a kind of international community.  People came there from all horizons — political, economic, culture.  The first globalization essay, experiment, were made in Buchenwald.  And all that was meant to diminish the humanity of human beings.

You spoke of humanity, Mr. President.  Though unto us, in those times, it was human to be inhuman.  And now the world has learned, I hope.  And of course this hope includes so many of what now would be your vision for the future, Mr. President.  A sense of security for Israel, a sense of security for its neighbors, to bring peace in that place.  The time must come.  It’s enough — enough to go to cemeteries, enough to weep for oceans.  It’s enough.  There must come a moment — a moment of bringing people together.

And therefore we say anyone who comes here should go back with that resolution.  Memory must bring people together rather than set them apart.  Memories here not to sow anger in our hearts, but on the contrary, a sense of solidarity that all those who need us.  What else can we do except invoke that memory so that people everywhere who say the 21st century is a century of new beginnings, filled with promise and infinite hope, and at times profound gratitude to all those who believe in our task, which is to improve the human condition.

A great man, Camus, wrote at the end of his marvelous novel, The Plague:  “After all,” he said, “after the tragedy, never the rest…there is more in the human being to celebrate than to denigrate.”  Even that can be found as truth — painful as it is — in Buchenwald.

Thank you, Mr. President, for allowing me to come back to my father’s grave, which is still in my heart.

5 thoughts on “Elie Wiesel's speech in Buchenwald

  1. Brenda Baskind

    A wonderful speech and great sentiments… if only people would listen to those words and realize that war and killing has never solved problems.
    We teach children in Nursery school to use their words to work out their problems…we teach them not to use their hands but their words….yet we as adults do not follow this advice ourselves.
    We teach children to share their toys to play fair, to be polite and be empathetic to their friends. we teach them to except others into their groups at play …
    Why do we go to such lenghts to teach this and yet as adults we dont practice what we teach??

    It is shameful the way adults in the world behave and set this bad example to our children!!
    WE are so proud to hear the words of Mr Wiezel nad President Obama, as they are the people others can look up to and aspire to

    Brenda Baskind

  2. Nurit Greenger

    Elie Wiesel speech is heartfelt. I simply cannot imagine what it was like to be a child in a horror death camp where children like Mr. Wiesel saw emaciated dead bodies each day.
    Unfortunately, the world has not learned a thing from the horror of the Holocaust; people keep on killing other people in the millions all around the world, but even more devastating is that there are people who are making long term plans to kill millions more.
    Unfortunately, the world has not learned and the endemic anti-Semitic disease is again rampant.
    We teach peace and we go to war; we teach morals and morality and much of the world has lost it moral compass; we reach equality and we do not practice it; we teach dignity that we not give each other; we teach honesty and integrity and all we see is dishonesty, corruption, greed and betrayal; we teach love and all we see is hate, jealously and resentment everywhere; we teach civility and humanity yet way too may act like savages. All that we are taught and then teach others is in vain and to oblivion. “When will they ever learn…” as the song goes but the world has not learned a thing!
    While forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future the world is still at a miserable state of affairs where those who beat their swords into plowshares will end up plowing the fields for those who did not.

  3. Mary Claire

    How true Brenda! Elie Wiesel’s words are a powerful and urgent call to the world, to learn how to live together, in spite of our differences. We are all bound to this earth we live on and our very survival, and that of our children will depend on the wisdom we show today.


  4. Pete Simonson

    Tears welled up in my eyes when heard Mr. Wiesel tell about the day his Father died – it is clear he is still “in the moment” when remembering that day.

    At Shabbat a few weeks ago I spoke to a man, a Holocaust survivor, who told of HIS father. In 1936 their family had the opportunity to go to England and escape the looming horrors facing Jews in Germany. His Father felt “where I go, my children go”, so they stayed – untimately, he was the only survivor out of 57 members of his family.

    Unfortunatey, as Mr. Wiesel pointed out, history has repeated itself too many times. In Rwanda, in Cambodia, in Bosnia. How many other Fathers have felt and said the same, only to have their families perish?

    We still haven’t heard. As Pete Seeger asked:

    Where have all the graveyards gone?
    Covered with flowers every one
    When will we ever learn?
    When will we ever learn?

  5. Wolfgang Leander

    Unfortunately, there is little hope that the world will ever learn.

    Yet, to read Elie Wiesel’s books, to listen to what he has to say allows us at least to see that the few prophetic voices of our times can make themselves heard so that, in the end, there is, perhaps, no reason to completely dispair.

    It seems that the human drive to destroy is stronger than those forces that made man create edifices such as the as gothic cathedrals or the lofty works of Socrates, Kant, Spinoza, Buber, and Wiesel.

    I read “Night” about 35 years ago, in horror, my heart filled with hate toward the German murderers.

    The passage where I could not contain my tears was the painful description of Wiesel’s inability to respond to his father’s last pleas to help him.

    That was, to me, the paradigm of what the killers had done to humanity – terrorizing a tortured son into frightful silence as he helplessly witnesses the death of his father.


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