Elie Wiesel died yesterday. Unlike (apparently) a lot of people, I did not encounter Night, his nonfiction/fictional account of internment at the Auschwitz concentration camp, survival, forced march, and subsequent liberation, until a few years after high school. It was not among the required readings for any of my classes, not even AP History (nor was Anne Frank’s diary). My reading habits by that time after graduation had come to cover a range very far and quite wide, and I found myself with a particular interest in Europe post-WWI through the end of WWII. More specifically, I was fascinated by both Germany and Russia (and then the USSR) both under the spell of tyrants, with people surrounding them willing to do the unthinkable to others whose only crime was being different or having some trait – religion, education, race, ethnicity – deemed undesirable by the dictator in charge. I was also amazed by the kindness of those not blinded by hate who were willing, often at a steep price, to assist complete strangers escape the realm that held them in such disregard they may as well not have been people at all.
Wiesel, like everyone else, was not perfect, and I did not agree with him on everything, just as no one does with any other person (his balking at the Iran nuclear deal was one such instance). However, his was a large and important voice with others reminding society of just what it is capable of doing if hypernationalism, xenophobia, and hatred are combined into a toxic mix. Unfortunately, those other voices who lived to tell their stories of that period are rapidly dying off as well, and I can only hope that people, now and in the future, are willing to heed the voices of those no longer among us.