Bearing Witness, 60 Years On
Speaking at the United Nations, a Nobel Laureate and Auschwitz survivor calls on the world to remember the Nazi death camps.
BY: Elie Wiesel
Mr. President of the General Assembly, Mr. Secretary-General my friend, excellencies:
The man who stands before you this morning feels deeply privileged. A teacher and writer, he speaks and writes as a witness to a crime committed in the heart of European Christendom and civilization by a brutal dictatorial regime-a crime of unprecedented cruelty in which all segments of government participated
When speaking about that era of darkness, the witness encounters difficulties. His words become obstacles rather than vehicles; he writes not with words but against words. For there are no words to describe what the victims felt when death was the norm and life a miracle. Still, whether you know it or not, his memory is part of yours.
I speak to you as a son of an ancient people, the only people of antiquity to have survived antiquity, the Jewish people which, throughout much of its history, has endured exile and oppression yet has never given up hope of redemption
As a young adolescent, he saw what no human being should have to see: the triumph of political fanaticism and ideological hatred for those who were different. He saw multitudes of human beings humiliated, isolated, tormented, tortured, and murdered. They were overwhelmingly Jews but there were others. And those who committed these crimes were not vulgar underworld thugs but men with high government, academic, industrial, and medical positions in Germany. In recent years, that nation has become a true democracy. But the question remains open: In those dark years, what motivated so many brilliant and committed public servants to invent such horrors? By its scope and magnitude, by its sheer weight of numbers, by the impact of so much humiliation and pain, in spite of being the most documented tragedy in the annals of history, Auschwitz still defies language and understanding.
Let me evoke those times:
Babies used as target practice by SS men...Adolescents condemned never to grow old...Parents watching their children thrown into burning pits ...Immense solitude engulfing an entire people...Infinite despair haunting our days and our dreams even 60 years later...
When did what we so poorly call the Holocaust begin? In 1938, during Kristallnacht? In 1939 perhaps, when a German ship, the St. Louis, with more than a thousand German Jewish refugees aboard, was turned back from America's shores? Or was it when the first massacres occurred in Babi Yar?
We still ask: What was Auschwitz: an end or a beginning, an apocalyptic consequence of centuries-old bigotry and hatred, or was it the final convulsion of demonic forces in human nature?
A creation parallel to God's-a world with its own antinomian United Nations of people of different nationalities, traditions, cultures, socio-economic spheres, speaking many languages, clinging to a variety of faiths and memories. They were grown ups or young, but inside that world there were no children and no grandparents; they had already perished.