“If I survived, it must be for some reason.”
Elie Wiesel spoke those words in a New York Times interview in 1981. Throughout his life, Wiesel lived with purpose and lent meaning to his survival. As a witness to the most extreme atrocities and in his lifetime as an activist, he changed the way we think about human rights and the way we understand our responsibility to each other.
It is hard to imagine now, with Night selling over 10 million copies and being a fixture on the curriculum of many American students, that at the time of its initial publication, the world didn’t know what to make of it. It is well-documented that 15 US publishers passed on the book before Hill & Wang picked it up. Wiesel wrote in the face of apathy, shame, and denial. The book, along with the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, changed the way the world saw the Holocaust. While others stood silent, Wiesel grappled with the moral and theological implications of mass genocide.
Wiesel challenged readers around the world to get into close proximity with the Holocaust at a time when many remained uncomfortable speaking plainly about what had happened. He opened a window to the unimaginable. His own story, and the loss of his mother, father and younger sister, made it impossible for readers to ignore the horror of the concentration camps. Truth and honesty, about ourselves and our history, is vital for all people and our democracy. As he wrote, “to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”