Last week I had the great pleasure of meeting Elie Wiesel, author, activist, Nobel Laureate and most famously, Holocaust survivor. As a teenager, he spent eleven months in German concentration camps. The physical torture was excruciating, the mental and spiritual anguish, devastating. His mother and younger sister were killed by German soldiers, and his father died while he looked helplessly on. He and two older sisters survived, even as more than six million others died, and to the mission of exposing, denouncing and remembering the suffering by the victims of the Holocaust, as well as other disenfranchised peoples, he has devoted his life and work.
Elie Wiesel, in spite of–or perhaps because of–the atrocities he witnessed and suffered, remains inquisitive about the mysteries of existence. He once said, “the essence of man is to be a question, and the essence of the question is to be without answer.” Who are we? Who is God? Who am I? How are we to live together without destroying one another? Re-reading his seminal memoir, Night, I imagine him at age fifteen in the barracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau, already haunted, his depleted body curling into a question mark.
Now he is eighty-four. He has lived long, prospered, and received countless accolades. But still, after all these years, he continues to bear witness, and to seek answers to dark questions. “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice,” he says, “but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”