Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel died on Saturday, July 2 at age 87. Here are things to know about the Nobel Peace Prize winning author.
Author and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, photographed in his New York office on Jan. 29, 2009.(Photo: File photo by Todd Plitt, USA TODAY)
Friends and family of Nobel Peace Prize winner and author Elie Wiesel gathered to memorialize him Sunday at a private service in a Manhattan synagogue, saying goodbye to one of the last firsthand witnesses to the Nazi atrocities of the Holocaust.
"This is really the double tragedy of it, not only the loss of someone who was so rare and unusual but the fact that those ranks are thinning out," Rabbi Perry Berkowitz, president of the American Jewish Heritage Organization, said before the service at Fifth Avenue Synagogue. "At the same time anti-Semitism, Holocaust revisionism keeps rising. The fear is that when there are no more survivors left, will the world learn the lesson because those voices will be silenced?"
Millions first learned about the Holocaust through Wiesel, who began publishing in the 1950s, a time when memories of the Nazis' atrocities were raw and repressed. He shared the harrowing story of his internment at Auschwitz as a teenager through his classic memoir Night, one of the most widely read and discussed books of the 20th century.
The Holocaust happened more than 70 years ago and few authors from that time remain. Another Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, Hungary's Imre Kertesz, died earlier this year, the Associated Press noted. Like Wiesel, who died on Saturday, he was 87.
Outside the service, on East 62nd Street, people stood on the sidewalk remembering Wiesel.
People embrace outside the Fifth Avenue Synagogue during the funeral for Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel on on July 3, 2016 in New York. (Photo: KENA BETANCUR, AFP/Getty Images)
“He was someone who protected us
,” Sarah Bardin, 44, told The New York Times,
through tears. "He interceded against our worst instincts."
A preschool teacher who had come to pay her respects, Bardin said she knew Wiesel only through his writing.
Around noon, a coffin was wheeled from the synagogue surrounded by a dozen mourners, the Times reported. Wiesel was interred in a simple pine box with a blue velvet cloth draped over it, customary in Jewish funerals. He was buried at Sharon Gardens cemetery in Valhalla, N.Y.
While Berkowitz and others worry that the Holocaust's lessons will be forgotten, some note that Wiesel himself worked to make memories endure. Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Wiesel had written dozens of books. Sara Bloomfield, director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., credited Wiesel with making organizations like hers possible.
"Night really put Elie Wiesel's personal memories into our personal consciousness and it ended up spawning a global remembrance movement that is very vital today," she told the AP.
"He carried a message universally, he carried the Jewish pain, the message of Jewish tragedy to the world but he took it way beyond," said Foxman, who has known Wiesel for decades. "He stood up for the people in Rwanda, he stood up for the Yugoslavians, he stood up for the Cambodians."
On Sunday, mourners shared personal memories. Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, remembered visiting Auschwitz with Wiesel in the 1980s and was struck that Wiesel's response was not one of hate, but of "great sadness."
"And he said to me what I think was one of the most important statements: 'The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference, it was indifference that brought anti-Semitism to Germany and it was indifference that brought the Holocaust,'" Lauder explained.
Foxman said that in recent months he and Wiesel would reminisce, in Yiddish, and talk philosophy.
"We talked about forgiveness, we talked about God. He was struggling with it," Foxman said. "Well now he's a little closer. Now he can challenge the Almighty much closer and maybe he'll get some answers, which he asked, but never got the answers to."