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September 28, 1990 - Image 20

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-09-28

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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obel Peace prize
winner Elie Wiesel
wears many hats. He
is philosopher, author, jour-
nalist, storyteller, human
rights defender.
Mr. Wiesel demonstrated
each of these qualities Tues-
day evening as he received
the first Wallenberg Medal
and delivered a lecture in his
name at the University . of
Michigan Hill Auditorium
U-M President James
Duderstadt presented the
award in honor of Raoul
Wallenberg, a U-M graduate
who saved the lives of
thousands of Jews in
Hungary toward the end of
World War II.
Mr. Wallenberg disappeared
shortly after being taken in-
to Soviet custody when
Hungary was liberated in
1945. The Soviet government
claims he died in 1947, but
many people believe he may
still be alive in a Soviet
prison. In August, the Soviet
Union agreed for the first
time to open Mt Wallenberg's
file to an international
commission.
Mr. Wiesel said he was
honored to receive the award,
but most pleased about hav-
ing the opportunity to speak
about Mr. Wallenberg.
"Mr. Wallenberg showed us
that it is possible to be
humane in an inhumane
society. It is easy to say
`What could I do?' If Mr.
Wallenberg had asked the
same question, thousands of
Jews would not have been
saved!'
Mr. Wiesel addressed the
mystery surrounding Mr.
Wallenberg's disappearance.
"We still don't know what
happened. For so many years
there was silence about him.
Very few people, except those
whom he personally saved,
mentioned him.
"Why the silence? I think I
know why. People were em-
barrassed. He taught a lesson
that it is wrong to say no one
had the capacity to resist evil.
If one man alone could
achieve this extraordinary
measure of rescue, why didn't
more follow or precede him?"
Mr. Wiesel told many emo-
tionally charged stories dur-
ing the evening. At one point,
he spoke about a discussion
he had had with generals who
liberated concentration
camps. He had asked them if
instead of strictly following
military orders, they chose to

Elie Wiesel:
Teaching non-hatred.

move more quickly to liberate
the concentration camps. "No
one did," he said. "Not even
24 hours sooner?'
Added Mr. Wiesel, "The
Jews were killed not just
because of killers but because
of indifference to the killers."
He said the non-Jews who
did help, the righteous gen-
tiles, have been revered by
Jews. But Mr. Wiesel noted
"there were -very few."
He told the story of a Berlin
woman who saved a Jewish
family. When journalists ask-
ed her why she put her life
and her family in jeopardy,
she was at a loss for words.
Finally, she asnwered, "You
want to know why I did it?
Simply because of self-
respect!'
Said Mr. Wiesel, "If I ever
meet this woman, I am going
to hug her. I confess that dur-
ing those years, there were
very few people in the oc-
cupied territories for whom I
have respect. Of course, Raoul
Wallenberg is one?'
Mr. Wiesel was taken from
his home in Sighet, Romania,
at the age of 15 and
transported to Auschwitz in
1944. He lost both his parents
and a younger sister during
the Holocaust. For ten years
after he was liberated, Mr.
Wiesel remained silent about
his experiences in the concen-
tration camps of Auschwitz
and Buchenwald. In 1960, he
published his memoir, Night.
He has now written 32 books
which have been widely
translated and have won
numerous international
awards.
Mr. Wiesel is the Andrew
W. Mellon Professor in the
Humanities at Boston
Continued on Page 22

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