By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Elie Wiesel lost both parents and a sister – and nearly his own life as well – in Nazi concentration camps, but he has never lost his belief in humanity’s ability to begin again.
The professor, author and Nobel Peace Prize laureate addressed members of the University of Mississippi’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and other guests Monday night at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
“In 1945, I had all the reasons to give up all the things you believe in – humanity, culture and, God forgive me, education,” Wiesel told the audience.
Somehow, he connected his – and his people’s – experience in the death camps with that of Job, a biblical hero who loses everything – children, health, wealth and status – but is eventually restored.
“At the beginning, I didn’t like the happy ending” in the Book of Job, he said. “It was too easy. I said, ‘What about the children who died?’ Then I realized, it was about beginning again. Job teaches us how to build on ruins.”
Referring again to Hebrew scripture, the 81–year–old professor noted the story of Cain and Abel, in which one brother murdered the other.
“I believe the story is told to teach us that whoever kills, kills his brother,” he said. “Have we not learned that violence is absurd, that humiliation is a disgrace? Apparently not.”
The evil of indifference
Wiesel, who has dedicated his life’s work to fostering peace among peoples, recalled traveling through the South in the Jim Crow era and contrasted that to today’s Ole Miss and Barack Obama’s election to the White House.
“The way this school has faced its own racism makes me proud to be with you,” he said. “If anyone had told me I would be invited to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of the first black President, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said.
Wiesel said one of the duties of humans is to make sure no one suffers alone.
He warned his full–house audience of young scholars and community members against giving apathy a foothold in their thinking.
Quoting one of the best-known lines from his lifetime of writing that includes some 50 books, he intoned, “The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness; it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy; it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death; it’s indifference.”
Wiesel closed his presentation with the story of a man in a small boat who began cutting a hole under his seat. When his fellow passengers objected, he said, “Leave me alone. I paid for my seat.” Wiesel likened that man to those who abuse – or ignore – the humanity of other people.
“In the end,” he said, “we’re all in the same boat.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281–1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.