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Elie Wiesel's Own Words: A Testament to Survival

October 19, 1986

Here are excerpts from the words of Elie Wiesel, who last week was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Considered the literary conscience of the Holocaust, Wiesel, 58, a professor of humanities at Boston College, dedicated his prize to all those who survived the Nazi horrors. He called them "an example to humankind how not to succumb to despair."

From Wiesel's speech in Washington on April 19, 1985 , on accepting a Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement from President Reagan. It was in this speech that he unsuccessfully implored the President to cancel his visit to the cemetery at Bitburg, Germany , where SS troops are buried.

I am grateful to you for the medal. But this medal is not mine alone. It belongs to all those who remember what SS killers have done to their victims.

It was given to me by the American people for my writings, teaching, and for my testimony. And when I write, I feel my invisible teachers standing over my shoulders reading my words and judging their veracity and while I feel responsible for the living I feel equally responsible to the dead. Their memory dwells in my memory. . . .

One million Jewish children perished. If I spent my entire life reciting their names, I would die before finishing the task.

Mr. President, I've seen children, I have seen children being thrown into the flames--alive! Words, they die on my lips. So I have learned, I have learned, I have learned the fragility of the human condition. . . .

I have learned the danger of indifference, the crime of indifference. For the opposite of love, I have learned, is not hate, but indifference. . . .

May I, Mr. President, if it's possible at all, implore you to do something else, to find a way to find another way, another site.

That place (the SS graves at Bitburg), Mr. President, is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS. . . .

And I, too, wish to attain true reconciliation with the German people. I do not believe in collective guilt nor in collective responsibility. Only the killers were guilty. Their sons and daughters are not.

And I believe, Mr. President, that we can and we must work together with them and with all people, and we must work to bring peace and understanding to a tormented world that, as you know, is still awaiting redemption.

Wiesel on the Holocaust, from "Night," his autobiographical account of the Nazi death camps where his family was sent when he was a teen - ager. Originally published in France in 1958, it was recently issued in a new edition by Bantam Books.

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp (at Birkenau), which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never. . . .

In the afternoon we were made to line up. Three prisoners brought a table and some medical instruments. With the left sleeve rolled up, each person passed in front of the table. The three "veterans," with needles in their hands, engraved a number on our left arms. I became A-7713. After that I had no other name. . . .

In the evening, lying on our beds, we would try to sing some of the Hasidic melodies, and Akiba Drumer would break our hearts with his deep, solemn voice.

Some talked of God, of his mysterious ways, of the sins of the Jewish people, and of their future deliverance. But I had ceased to pray. How I sympathized with Job! I did not deny God's existence, but I doubted his absolute justice. . . .

We would often hum tunes evoking the calm waters of Jordan and the majestic sanctity of Jerusalem. And we would often talk of Palestine. . . . We decided that, if we were granted our lives until the liberation, we would not stay in Europe a day longer. We would take the first boat for Haifa. . . .

Then we began to hear the airplanes. Almost at once, the barracks began to shake.

"They're bombing Buna!" someone shouted.

I thought of my father. But I was glad all the same. To see the whole works go up in fire--what revenge! We had heard so much talk about the defeats of German troops on various fronts, but we did not know how much to believe. This, today, was real!

We were not afraid. And yet, if a bomb had fallen on the blocks, it alone would have claimed hundreds of victims on the spot. But we were no longer afraid of death; at any rate, not of that death. Every bomb that exploded filled us with joy and gave us new confidence in life.

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