Elie Wiesel

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Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other.

Elie Wiesel (born 30 September 1928) is a writer, professor at Boston University, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor.

Quotes[edit]

If you ask me what I want to achieve, it's to create an awareness, which is already the beginning of teaching.
The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.
No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.
I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
Whenever an angel says "Be not afraid!" you'd better start worrying. A big assignment is on the way.
This isn't instant coffee.
  • They called him Moishe the Beadle, as if his entire life he had never had a surname.
  • If you ask me what I want to achieve, it's to create an awareness, which is already the beginning of teaching.
    • In a 1978 interview with John S. Friedman, published in The Paris Review 26 (Spring 1984); and in Elie Wiesel : Conversations (2002) edited by Robert Franciosi, p. 85
  • What I don't like today is, to put it coarsely, the phony Hasidism, the phony mysticism. Many students say, "Teach me mysticism." It's a joke.
    • In a 1978 interview with John S. Friedman, published in The Paris Review 26 (Spring 1984); and in Elie Wiesel : Conversations (2002) edited by Robert Franciosi, p. 86
  • Miracles in mysticism don't occupy such an important place. It's metaphor, for the peasants, for the crowds, to impress people. What does mysticism really mean? It means the way to attain knowledge. It's close to philosophy, except in philosophy you go horizontally while in mysticism you go vertically. You plunge into it. Philosophy is a slow process of logic and logical discourse: A bringing B bringing C and so forth. In mysticism you can jump from A to Z. But the ultimate objective is the same. It's knowledge. It's truth.
    • In a 1978 interview with John S. Friedman, published in The Paris Review 26 (Spring 1984); and in Elie Wiesel : Conversations (2002) edited by Robert Franciosi, p. 87
  • I rarely speak about God. To God yes. I protest against Him. I shout at Him. But open discourse about the qualities of God, about the problems that God imposes, theodicy, no. And yet He is there, in silence, in filigree.
    • In a 1978 interview with John S. Friedman, published in The Paris Review 26 (Spring 1984); and in Elie Wiesel : Conversations (2002) edited by Robert Franciosi, p. 87
  • That place, Mr. President, is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS.
    • Comments regarding US President Ronald Reagan's proposed visit to a Bitburg cemetery with then German President Helmut Kohl, on receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor from Reagan (4/1/1985).
  • Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.
    • US News & World Report (27 October 1986)
  • The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.
    • US News & World Report (27 October 1986)
  • Whenever an angel says "Be not afraid!" you'd better start worrying. A big assignment is on the way.
    • Elie Wiesel, as quoted in Spirituality and Liberation : Overcoming the Great Fallacy (1988) by Robert McAfee Brown, p. 136
  • An immoral society betrays humanity because it betrays the basis for humanity, which is memory. An immoral society deals with memory as some politicians deal with politics. A moral society is committed to memory: I believe in memory. The Greek word alethia means Truth, Things that cannot be forgotten. I believe in those things that cannot be forgotten and because of that so much in my work deals with memory... What do all my books have in common? A commitment to memory.
    • "Building a Moral Society", Chamberlin Lecture at Lewis & Clark College (1995)
  • Close your eyes and listen. Listen to the silent screams of terrified mothers, the prayers of anguished old men and women. Listen to the tears of children. Jewish children, a beautiful little girl among them, with golden hair, whose vulnerable tenderness has never left me. Look and listen as they walk towards dark flames so gigantic that the planet itself seemed in danger.
    • From an address given at Auschwitz in occassion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Holocaust (27 January 1995)
  • What is abnormal is that I am normal. That I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and live my life — that is what is abnormal.
    • After being asked "What does it take to be normal again, after having your humanity stripped away by the Nazis?" in an interview in O : The Oprah Magazine (November 2000)
  • When a person doesn't have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.
    • Interview in O : The Oprah Magazine (November 2000)
  • For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.
    • Interview in O : The Oprah Magazine (November 2000)
  • I had anger but never hate. Before the war, I was too busy studying to hate. After the war, I thought, What's the use? To hate would be to reduce myself.
    • Interview in O : The Oprah Magazine (November 2000)
  • It's up to you now, and we shall help you - that my past does not become your future.
  • I don't believe in accidents. There are only encounters in history. There are no accidents.
    • International Herald Tribune (15 September 1992)
  • I believe mysticism is a very serious endeavor. One must be equipped for it. One doesn't study calculus before studying arithmetic. In my tradition, one must wait until one has learned a lot of Bible and Talmud and the Prophets to handle mysticism. This isn't instant coffee. There is no instant mysticism.
  • Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds.
    • Attributed in The Little Book of Romanian Wisdom (2011) edited by Diana Doroftei and Matthew Cross
  • There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.
    • Attributed in The Little Book of Romanian Wisdom (2011) edited by Diana Doroftei and Matthew Cross
  • The most important question a human being has to face... What is it? The question, Why are we here?
  • The duty of the survivor is to bear testimony to what happened . . . You have to warn people that these things can happen, that evil can be unleashed. Race hatred, violence, idolatries—they still flourish.
  • From time immemorial, people have talked about peace without achieving it. Do we simply lack enough experience? Though we talk peace, we wage war. Sometimes we even wage war in the name of peace. . . . War may be too much a part of history to be eliminated—ever.

Nobel acceptance speech (1986)[edit]

Nobel acceptance speech (10 December 1986)
  • No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.
  • I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
  • As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.

Hope, Despair, and Memory (1986)[edit]

Language failed us. We would have to invent a new vocabulary, for our own words were inadequate, anemic.
Nobel Lecture (11 December 1986)
Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.
None of us is in a position to eliminate war, but it is our obligation to denounce it and expose it in all its hideousness. War leaves no victors, only victims.


  • Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future.
  • A recollection. The time: After the war. The place: Paris. A young man struggles to readjust to life. His mother, his father, his small sister are gone. He is alone. On the verge of despair. And yet he does not give up. On the contrary, he strives to find a place among the living. He acquires a new language. He makes a few friends who, like himself, believe that the memory of evil will serve as a shield against evil; that the memory of death will serve as a shield against death.
  • Waking among the dead, one wondered if one was still alive. And yet real despair only seized us later. Afterwards. As we emerged from the nightmare and began to search for meaning.
  • It seemed as impossible to conceive of Auschwitz with God as to conceive of Auschwitz without God. Therefore, everything had to be reassessed because everything had changed. With one stroke, mankind's achievements seemed to have been erased. Was Auschwitz a consequence or an aberration of "civilization"? All we know is that Auschwitz called that civilization into question as it called into question everything that had preceded Auschwitz. Scientific abstraction, social and economic contention, nationalism, xenophobia, religious fanaticism, racism, mass hysteria. All found their ultimate expression in Auschwitz.
  • For us, forgetting was never an option. Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered.
  • Of course some wars may have been necessary or inevitable, but none was ever regarded as holy. For us, a holy war is a contradiction in terms. War dehumanizes, war diminishes, war debases all those who wage it. The Talmud says, "Talmidei hukhamim marbin shalom baolam" (It is the wise men who will bring about peace). Perhaps, because wise men remember best.
  • How are we to reconcile our supreme duty towards memory with the need to forget that is essential to life? No generation has had to confront this paradox with such urgency. The survivors wanted to communicate everything to the living: the victim's solitude and sorrow, the tears of mothers driven to madness, the prayers of the doomed beneath a fiery sky.
  • After the war we reassured ourselves that it would be enough to relate a single night in Treblinka, to tell of the cruelty, the senselessness of murder, and the outrage born of indifference: it would be enough to find the right word and the propitious moment to say it, to shake humanity out of its indifference and keep the torturer from torturing ever again.
  • We thought it would be enough to tell of the tidal wave of hatred which broke over the Jewish people for men everywhere to decide once and for all to put an end to hatred of anyone who is "different" — whether black or white, Jew or Arab, Christian or Moslem — anyone whose orientation differs politically, philosophically, sexually.
  • We tried. It was not easy. At first, because of the language; language failed us. We would have to invent a new vocabulary, for our own words were inadequate, anemic. And then too, the people around us refused to listen; and even those who listened refused to believe; and even those who believed could not comprehend. Of course they could not. Nobody could. The experience of the camps defies comprehension.
  • If someone had told us in 1945 that in our lifetime religious wars would rage on virtually every continent, that thousands of children would once again be dying of starvation, we would not have believed it. Or that racism and fanaticism would flourish once again, we would not have believed it.
  • Terrorism must be outlawed by all civilized nations — not explained or rationalized, but fought and eradicated. Nothing can, nothing will justify the murder of innocent people and helpless children.
  • Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair. I remember the killers, I remember the victims, even as I struggle to invent a thousand and one reasons to hope.
  • There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. The Talmud tells us that by saving a single human being, man can save the world.
  • None of us is in a position to eliminate war, but it is our obligation to denounce it and expose it in all its hideousness. War leaves no victors, only victims.
  • A destruction only man can provoke, only man can prevent. Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other.
  • No human being is illegal.

Quotes about Wiesel[edit]

  • It is the Committee's opinion that 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. His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief. His message is based on his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler's death camps. The message is in the form of a testimony, repeated and deepened through the works of a great author.
    • Official Press Release of The Norwegian Nobel Committee (14 October 1986)

External links[edit]

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