What qualifies Elie Wiesel to be this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace? He has not led any mass movements on behalf of civil rights. He has not negotiated any treaty to end war or prevent conflict. He has not gone into the slums to comfort the sick or feed the hungry. Why, then, has this Romanian-born, naturalized American citizen, a survivor of Nazi extermination camps and the author of 25 books, been so singularly honored? Because for nearly 40 years he has been the literary custodian of an imperishable memory. Because he has refused to allow his faith in human dignity to be shaken by the experienced horror of programmed degradation and mass murder. Because he has insistently used his eloquent and compassionate voice to disturb those who would be silent, and to call to remembrance those who would forget.
His message has not always been welcome. Much of the world, fixated on a belief in the inevitability of progress, does not like to think about the Holocaust and what it means--and not simply meant--for those who were its victims and, through them, for all of mankind. Much of the rest of the world, fatalistically accepting whatever life brings, soon shrugs off suffering even on an immense scale. Wiesel, confronting the tormenting question not of what happened in Hitler's World War II death camps but why, has summoned mankind to share in his agonizing search for understanding.
He has insisted on keeping in the forefront the bitter and wounding truth that it is within human capacity to perpetrate the most monstrous of crimes. He has retained a resolute conviction that it is no less within human capacity to prevent such evils from occurring again. Elie Wiesel has witnessed the worst that people can do. Out of that has come a commitment that is testimony to the best that people can be.