By Abraham H. Miller, Originally published in the American Spectator
iant has fallen. Elie Wiesel’s life was so momentous that his death disrupted the conscience of humanity. We are the lesser for it. His life connected the dead to the living. He gave voice to those who could not speak. He was the repository for memories that ceased to exist and were to be exorcised from the record of history. His life’s work gave flesh and bones to those whose existence was to be incinerated in an anonymous death devoid of meaning.
Professor Leo Eitinger, who conducted seminal studies of the Holocaust, once told me that the obligation of the survivor was to bear witness. In the Warsaw ghetto, Jewish-Polish historian Emanuel Ringelblum established a secret organization to record for posterity the suffering of the Jewish people under the Nazi occupation. Ringelblum and his colleagues buried thousands of documents in milk cans and tin boxes so that the voices and culture of a people condemned to extermination would not be eradicated. Their efforts triumphed over the Nazis’ attempts to silence them. Ringelblum’s history lives on.
For the People of the Book, the written record, the memory, and the voice must be preserved. In Andre Schwarz-Bart’s, The Last of the Just, a rabbi facing a pogrom screams at his assailants, you may burn us, but you may not burn our books.
The anonymity of death robs people of their humanity. It is easier to identify with the death of a single child whose face we see, whose loss elicits our compassion, than those turned into ash or interred in a mass grave. It is difficult to identify with an abstraction. In Night, probably his most widely read book, Elie Wiesel gave human form to the victims of the Holocaust. He became the chronicler of history’s greatest evil.
President Barack Obama called Wiesel “the conscience of the world.”
But to those devoid of conscience, Holocaust deniers, anti-Semites, and self-hating Jews, Wiesel’s death was an occasion to spew hatred and to stomp on his grave before he was buried.