Transcript: Robert Adams on The Forgotten | Apr 17, 2011

Robert Adams stands behind a wooden lectern on a stage, and addresses an unseen audience.
He’s in his sixties, balding, with a white goatee. He’s wearing a kippah, rounded glasses, a black suit with a red poppy on the lapel, a black shirt, and a red tie.
A banner on the lectern reads "Holocaust Education Week."

Robert says TONIGHT, I'M GOING
TO TALK ABOUT
THE CELEBRATED WRITER
ELIE WIESEL,
AND IN PARTICULAR, HIS
NOVEL,
THE FORGOTTEN.
ELIE WIESEL, IS,
OF COURSE, JEWISH,
BUT MORE THAN THAT,
ELIE WIESEL IS NOT ONLY
JEWISH, HE IS A HASID.
HE IS A
VIZHNITZER HASID.
I HAVE SAID THAT BEFORE,
AND PEOPLE SEEM TO RAISE
THEIR EYEBROWS BECAUSE
HE DOESN'T WEAR
THE DISTINCTIVE CLOTHING
THAT WE EXPECT.
BUT I HAVE HEARD HIM REFER
TO HIS HASIDISM MANY TIMES.
TWO WEEKS AGO, HE SPOKE
AT CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY
IN MONTREAL.
AND I HAD MET HIM BEFORE
AND THERE WAS A PRIVATE
RECEPTION AFTERWARDS TO
WHICH HE INVITED ME.
AND I DECIDED TO SETTLE THE
MATTER ONCE AND FOR ALL.
I PUT THE QUESTION
TO HIM DIRECTLY.
DO YOU STILL CONSIDER
YOURSELF A VIZHNITZER HASID?
AND HE SAID,
YES, OF COURSE.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Robert Adams. Author and book reviewer. Elie Wiesel's The Forgotten. Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue, Toronto. November 2, 2010."

Robert continues NOW, I HESITATE TO
BRING UP THE NEXT POINT
BECAUSE I AM SPEAKING
IN A SYNAGOGUE.
AND THERE ARE SO MANY
PEOPLE HERE WHO KNOW
MUCH BETTER THAN I DO WHAT
THE HASIDIC MOVEMENT MEANS,
AND HOW IT CAME
INTO BEING.
BUT I ALSO KNOW THAT THERE
ARE SOME PEOPLE HERE
WHO ARE NOT FAMILIAR WITH
THE HASIDIC MOVEMENT
WITHIN JUDAISM, SO IF
YOU WILL EXCUSE ME
FOR ONE OR TWO MINUTES, I
WOULD LIKE TO TAKE US BACK,
VERY BRIEFLY, TO
THE 18TH CENTURY.
BECAUSE HASIDISM IS SO
IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTANDING
ELIE WIESEL, AND WHAT
HE IS, WHAT HE BELIEVES,
AND WHAT HE WRITES.
IN THE 18TH CENTURY, IN
THE CARPATHIAN MOUNTAINS,
IN WHAT IS NOW ROMANIA,
THERE LIVED A RABBI,
RABBI YISROEL
BEN ELIEZER.
AND THAT RABBI WHO
BECAME KNOWN LATER
AS THE BAAL
SHEM TOV,
THE MASTER OF THE
GOOD NAME,
CAME TO BELIEVE THAT THE
JUDAISM OF HIS PERIOD
HAS FOSSILIZED,
INSTITUTIONALIZED,
BECOME STATIC.
THEY'D BECOME, HE THOUGHT,
TOO FAR FROM GOD.
SO THE BAL SHEM TOV DECIDED
TO TEACH HIS FOLLOWERS
THAT GOD IS
CLOSE TO EACH OF US.
THAT EACH OF US MAY
SPEAK TO GOD DIRECTLY
WITHOUT ANY
INTERMEDIARY.
HE TAUGHT HIS
FOLLOWERS TO REJOICE
IN GOD'S CREATION.
THAT MIRACLES ARE
DAILY ALL AROUND US.
AND THAT IN SPITE OF
THE PHYSICAL MISERY
OF ANTI-SEMITIC EUROPE,
THEY MUST FIND JOY
IN THE LIFE GIVEN TO
THEM BY THEIR CREATOR.
THERE WAS A GREAT DEAL OF
MYSTICISM THAT CAME
WITH THAT MESSAGE WITH SO
MUCH MENTION OF MIRACLES
AND PROXIMITY TO GOD.
AND THE BAAL SHEM TOV
DISPATCHED HIS EMISSARIES
ALL OVER EASTERN EUROPE.
AND MANY OF THOSE EMISSARIES
AND LATER FOLLOWERS,
FOUNDED DYNASTIC
DYNASTIES IN EACH
OF THE VILLAGES
THEY WENT TO.
AND THOSE DYNASTIES
CONTINUED.
AND THUS WE HAVE THE
SATMAR, THE BELZ,
THE VIZHNITZ AND, OF
COURSE, LUBAVITCH,
ET CETERA, ET CETERA.
MANY OF THEM, MOST OF THEM
WEARING DISTINCTIVE DRESS
IN HONOUR OF
THEIR FOUNDER,
THEIR PARTICULAR
FOUNDER.
BUT IN EVERY STRAIN OF
HASIDISM IS THE SAME MESSAGE,
JOY IN GOD'S
CREATION AND
THE CLOSENESS
TO GOD.
NOW, ELIE WIESEL,
ELIEZER WIESEL,
WAS BORN IN 1928 IN
THE TOWN OF SIGHET,
THEN IN ROMANIA, ALTHOUGH
IT BECAME PART OF HUNGARY
DURING THE
SECOND WORLD WAR.
HIS BELOVED GRANDFATHER,
ELIE WIESEL'S BELOVED
GRANDFATHER WAS
VERY PROMINENT
IN THE VIZHNITZER
HASIDIC COMMUNITY.
ELIE WIESEL'S CHILDHOOD
WAS FILLED WITH HASIDIC TALES
AND MYSTICISM,
AND THE FEELING
OF CLOSENESS TO GOD.
HE ALWAYS SAYS, "I LEARNED
REASON FROM MY FATHER,
AND MY FAITH
FROM MY MOTHER
AND MY GRANDFATHER."
THEN CAME THE
SECOND WORLD WAR.
AND IN 1944, ELIE WIESEL,
THEN 15 YEARS OLD,
AND HIS FAMILY, AND
15,000 OTHER JEWS
FROM SIGHET, WAS
SENT TO AUSCHWITZ,
WHERE HIS MOTHER AND
A YOUNGER SISTER
WERE IMMEDIATELY
MURDERED.
ELIE WIESEL
CLAIMED TO BE 18,
AND THEREFORE
FIT FOR LABOUR.
AND HE BECAME UNIT A7713
TATTOOED ON HIS LEFT ARM.
HE AND HIS FATHER
WERE ASSIGNED
TO THE WORK CAMP
OF BUNA.
ON JANUARY 19, 1945, ELIE
WIESEL AND HIS FATHER
WERE TRANSFERRED
BY FORCED MARCH,
BY DEATH MARCH, FROM
BUNA TO BUCHENWALD.
OF THE 20,000 JEWS
WHO LEFT BUNA, 6,000
ARRIVED IN BUCHENWALD.
ELIE WIESEL'S FATHER,
SHLOMO WIESEL,
SURVIVED THE JOURNEY,
ONLY TO DIE WITHIN DAYS
OF EXHAUSTION, DYSENTERY,
AND STARVATION.
AFTER LIBERATION IN
1945, ELIE WIESEL
WAS PLACED IN A SERIES
OF ORPHANAGES IN PARIS.
HE SAYS, I KEPT
MY SANITY.
"I RETAINED MY SANITY BY
STUDYING TALMUD EVERY DAY.
BY IMMERSING MYSELF
IN TALMUD EVERY DAY,"
WHICH HE STILL DOES.
HE LEARNED FRENCH.
STUDIED PHILOSOPHY.
WORKED VARIOUSLY
AS A CHOIR MASTER,
A HEBREW TEACHER, AND
FINALLY, AS A JOURNALIST.
HE ALSO DID A LITTLE
TRANSLATION WORK,
FRENCH, HEBREW,
YIDDISH, FOR THE IRGUN.
IN 1949, HE JOINED THE
STAFF OF THE FRENCH
NEWSPAPER
L'ARCHE.
AND IN THAT SAME YEAR,
HE BECAME THE PARIS
CORRESPONDENT FOR A NUMBER
OF ISRAELI NEWSPAPERS.
HIS JOURNALISM
CAREER FLOURISHED,
BUT HE NEVER WROTE
ABOUT HASHOAH,
ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST.
HE FOUND THE
EXPERIENCE OBSCENE,
INCOMPREHENSIBLE,
AND ABSURD.
ABSURD IN ITS
TECHNICAL MEANING -
TECHNICAL SENSE OF
HAVING NO MEANING.
HE AGREED AT THAT TIME
WITH THE PHILOSOPHER
THEODOR ADORNO TO WHOM
THE RABBI REFERRED,
WHO SAID AUSCHWITZ IS BEYOND
THE REACH OF LANGUAGE.
WIESEL'S SILENCE ON
THE HOLOCAUST LASTED
FOR NINE YEARS.
IN 1954, HE WANTED TO
INTERVIEW THE THEN
FRENCH PRIME MINISTER,
PIERRE MENDES FRANCE,
ALSO A JEW.
HE THOUGHT THAT THE
GREAT FRENCH WRITER,
FRANCOIS MAURIAC MIGHT
EFFECT AN INTRODUCTION.
HE WAS A WRITER FOR
WHOM ELIE WIESEL
HAD A TREMENDOUS
RESPECT.
SO HE WENT TO SEE
MAURIAC TO ASK FOR
THE INTRODUCTION TO
MENDES FRANCE.
AND FOR THE FIRST TIME
IN HIS CONVERSATION
WITH MAURIAC, HE SPOKE ABOUT
HIS WARTIME EXPERIENCE.
AND FRANCOIS
MAURIAC WEPT.
HE WEPT IN HORROR AND
HE BEGGED ELIE WIESEL
TO PUT ON PAPER WHAT
HE HAD SUFFERED.
AND AFTER MUCH REFLECTION,
ELIE WIESEL AGREED TO WRITE,
FIRST, TO BEAR WITNESS
TO THE SILENT DEAD.
SECOND, AS A MORAL BEING
TO TRY TO FIND MEANING
THROUGH WRITING
IN AN EXPERIENCE
THAT MIGHT HAVE
NO MEANING.
AND THIRD, TO POST A WARNING
TO FUTURE GENERATIONS,
AS HE OFTEN SAYS, "I
DO NOT WANT MY PAST
TO BECOME SOMEBODY
ELSE'S FUTURE."
SO WE HAVE HIS
FIRST BOOK.
HE WROTE IT IN 1956,
TWO YEARS AFTER
HE SPOKE TO MAURIAC.
IT WAS WRITTEN AND
PUBLISHED IN YIDDISH.
THE TITLE WAS
AUN DI VELT IZ
GEVEN SHTIL.
AND THE WORLD
WAS SILENT.
IN 1958, IT CAME OUT IN A
FRENCH TRANSLATION
AS
LA NUIT.
AND IN 1960 CAME THE
ENGLISH TRANSLATION,
NIGHT.
IT WASN'T A NOVEL;
IT WAS A MEMOIR.
A MEMOIR OF ELIE
WIESEL'S OWN EXPERIENCE.
IT COULD NOT BE
A NOVEL BECAUSE,
AS THE RABBI MENTIONED,
AND AS ELIE WIESEL
OFTEN SAYS, "A NOVEL ABOUT
AUSCHWITZ IS EITHER
NOT A NOVEL, OR IT IS
NOT ABOUT AUSCHWITZ."
AUSCHWITZ IS NOT THE
SUBJECT OF FICTION.
IT CANNOT BE THE
SUBJECT OF FICTION.
AFTER
NIGHT
CAME OUT
IN ENGLISH IN 1960,
SALES WERE
INITIALLY SLOW.
THE WORLD WAS NOT
PREPARED FOR THAT MEMOIR.
BUT AFTER A SLOW START,
NIGHT
HAS SOLD OVER
THE YEARS IN THE
TENS OF MILLIONS.
IT HAS BECOME A
STAPLE OF TEACHING
IN EVERY CIVILIZED
COUNTRY.
IT WAS MY WIFE, PEARL,
AN AWARD-WINNING
HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER, WHO
INTRODUCED
NIGHT
INTO THE HIGH SCHOOL
PROGRAM IN MONTREAL.
AFTER
NIGHT
CAME MORE
THAN 50 OTHER BOOKS.
I'M NOT GOING TO
DEAL WITH THEM ALL,
BUT I WOULD LIKE TO
MENTION HIS NOVEL,
THE ACCIDENT
WHICH,
IN FACT, WAS WRITTEN
AS A SISTER PIECE
TO
NIGHT.
IT DIDN'T COME OUT IN
ENGLISH UNTIL 1961.
IT'S ABOUT AN
ISRAELI JOURNALIST,
A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR, WHO
WAS ALMOST RUN OVER
BY A TAXI, AND WHO
COMES TO REALIZE
THAT HIS SUBCONSCIOUS
GUILT OVER SURVIVING,
WHEN SO MANY
MILLIONS DIED,
HAVE LED HIM TO
SEEK HIS OWN DEATH.
AND WIESEL HAS ALWAYS
SAID THAT THERE IS A STRONG
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL
ELEMENT IN THAT NOVEL,
THE ACCIDENT.
AND THEN CAME
OTHER NOVELS.
AND THEN IN 1992 CAME THIS
NOVEL,
THE FORGOTTEN.
BUT WHILE HE WAS
WRITING MAJOR WORKS,
FROM
NIGHT
TO,
THE FORGOTTEN,
ELIE WIESEL WAS ALSO WRITING
SCHOLARLY WORKS ABOUT
THE GREAT RABBIS AND REBELS
OF HASIDIC HISTORY.
SAGES WHO FOUND A WAY
TO LIVE JOYFULLY
IN A THREATENING AND OFTEN
INCOMPREHENSIBLE WORLD.
BUT IN NONE OF HIS WORKS,
NEITHER IN THE NOVELS
NOR IN HIS WORKS ON
THE HASIDIC SAGES,
HAS ELIE WIESEL EVER
SUCCEEDED IN FINDING
MEANING IN THE
HOLOCAUST.
AS HE OFTEN SAYS, HE IS
FACED WITH A PARADOX
THAT WILL NOT GO AWAY.
THE HASHOAH WAS ABSURD,
APPARENTLY WITHOUT MEANING,
AND YET, ONE
MUST ATTEMPT TO FIND
MEANING WITHIN IT.
BECAUSE IT IS THE
HOLOCAUST, HASHOAH,
THE CENTRAL MORAL EVENT
OF THE 20TH CENTURY.
AND THE ONLY ANSWER
FOR WIESEL IN FACE
OF THE DILEMMA IS HE
MUST CONTINUE TO TELL
THE STORY TO BEAR WITNESS,
TO ASK THE QUESTION:
WHAT IS THE MEANING?
BECAUSE THE ONLY
ALTERNATIVE IS DESPAIR
TO ADMIT FINALLY THE
MEANINGLESSNESS.
AND TO DO THAT, HE FEELS,
WOULD BE TO PROFANE THE DEAD.
HE MUST CONTINUE TO
GRAPPLE WITH THE DILEMMA
OF FASHIONING A
MEANINGFUL FUTURE
OUT OF A PAST THAT MAY HAVE
NO DISCERNIBLE MEANING.
THE IMPORTANT THING IS
THAT THE STORY MUST BE TOLD.
WE MUST CONTINUE TO
TRY TO FIND MEANING,
TO IMPOSE MEANING, ON WHAT
PERHAPS HAS NO MEANING.
WE MUST SPEAK,
AND WE MUST WRITE.
BECAUSE WORDS
HAVE POWER.
BOOKS HAVE POWER.
BOOKS HAVE
GREAT POWER.
THE DALAI LAMA MET ELIE
WIESEL FOR THE FIRST TIME,
AND THEY HAVE
MET MANY TIMES.
BUT IN THAT FIRST MEETING,
THE DALAI LAMA'S
FIRST QUESTION TO
ELIE WIESEL WAS,
"I AND SOME OF MY PEOPLE
HAVE ONLY RECENTLY
ENTERED EXILE.
HOW IS IT THAT YOUR PEOPLE
SURVIVED 2,000 YEARS
OF EXILE BEFORE RETURNING
TO YOUR HOMELAND?"
AND ELIE WIESEL SAID, "WHEN
WE WERE FORCED TO LEAVE
JERUSALEM, WE TOOK
WITH US A BOOK.
AND THAT BOOK, AND THE
WORDS IT CONTAINS,
HAVE SUSTAINED US
FOR 2,000 YEARS."
I AM NOW VERY NEAR
TO TODAY'S NOVEL,
WHICH IS ABOUT
WORDS AND MEMORY.
BUT ONE LAST NOTE
BEFORE I CONTINUE,
I SAID A MOMENT AGO
THE HOLOCAUST, HASHOAH,
WAS THE DEFINING MORAL
EVENT OF THE 20TH CENTURY.
I WOULD LIKE TO EXPLAIN
THAT A LITTLE BIT.
I KNOW THAT THE DEATH
OF A JEWISH CHILD
IS NOT MORE TERRIBLE,
OR LESS TERRIBLE,
THAN THE DEATH OF
AN ARMENIAN CHILD,
OR A CAMBODIAN CHILD,
OR A SUDANESE CHILD.
THE DEATH OF ANY INNOCENT,
ESPECIALLY A CHILD,
IS AN OBSCENITY
AND A BLASPHEMY.
I KNOW THERE HAVE BEEN
OTHER TERRIBLE MASSACRES,
BUT THE HOLOCAUST IS,
WAS, ALWAYS WILL BE, UNIQUE.
FIRST, BECAUSE IT WAS
PERPETRATED BY THE MOST
ADVANCED CULTIVATED
TECHNOLOGICALLY DEVELOPED
SOCIETY OF ITS TIME.
SECOND, BECAUSE THE
HOLOCAUST HAD, AT ITS AIM,
NOT THE SUBJUGATION
OF A PEOPLE
TO A DICTATOR'S WILL, NOT
THE FORCING OF A PEOPLE
INTO SLAVERY, NOT THE
FORCING OF A NEW IDEOLOGY
ONTO A PEOPLE, BUT THE
ABSOLUTE DESTRUCTION
OF A PEOPLE DOWN TO
THE LAST BABY.
IN THESE DAYS
OF REVISIONISM,
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO
SHOUT OVER AND OVER AGAIN
WITHOUT RESERVATION THAT
THE HOLOCAUST IS UNIQUE.
AND NOW WITH
GREAT HUMILITY,
I APPROACH
THE
FORGOTTEN.
IT BEGINS WITH AN
UNBELIEVABLY POWERFUL PRAYER,
A PRAYER BY A HOLOCAUST
SURVIVOR WHO FEARS
HE IS SUCCUMBING
TO ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE.
I QUOTE IN PART
THAT PRAYER,
"GOD OF AUSCHWITZ, KNOW
THAT I MUST REMEMBER
AUSCHWITZ, AND THAT I
MUST REMIND YOU OF IT.
YOU SPARED ME IN
TIME OF DANGER
THAT I MIGHT TESTIFY.
WHAT SORT OF WITNESS WILL
I BE WITHOUT MY MEMORY?"
IT'S A TREMENDOUS AND
MOVING INVOCATION.
AND I WAS STRUCK NOT ONLY
BY THE INSISTENCE
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF
MEMORY AND WITNESS,
BUT BY THE INTIMACY OF
THE CONVERSATION WITH GOD.
THEN, OF COURSE, I
REMEMBERED ELIE WIESEL
IS A HASID.
AND I REMEMBERED HIS
VIEW OF HASIDISM,
WHICH I HAVE TRIED TO
STUDY VERY CAREFULLY.
FOR WIESEL, HASIDISM IS
NOT AN ABSTRACT SYSTEM
OF IDEAS, OR EVEN AN
HYPOTHESIS OF GOD.
IT IS RATHER THE
OPPOSITE OF SOLITUDE.
FOR ELIE WIESEL, HASIDISM
MEANS BINDING YOURSELF UP
IN THE JOY AND THE
LOVE AND THE DISTRESS
OF OTHER PEOPLE.
AND BINDING YOURSELF UP IN
THE LOVE AND THE JOY
AND THE DISTRESS
OF GOD.
FOR WIESEL, THOSE HASIDIC
SAGES, THOSE REBELS,
FROM THE BAAL SHEM TOV
ONWARDS, WERE HOLY MEN,
WHO INSISTED ON
CELEBRATING GOD AND LIFE,
NO MATTER WHAT MISERIES
THEY WERE FORCED TO ENDURE.
HE CALLS THEM TITANS OF THE
SPIRIT WHO REFUSE DESPAIR.
NOW, THE MAN WHO MADE
THAT PRAYER TO THE GOD
OF AUSCHWITZ, AND ANY
HYPOTHESIS OF GOD
HAS TO ACCOUNT FOR
AUSCHWITZ, AND TREBLINKA,
AND RAVENSBRUCH,
AND SO ON.
THE MAN WHO MADE THAT
PRAYER TO THE GOD
OF AUSCHWITZ IS NAMED
ELHANAN ROSENBAUM.
HE IS A SURVIVOR
OF THE HOLOCAUST.
NOW, HE IS AN OLD
MAN, A WIDOWER.
BOTH A RELIGIOUS TEACHER
AND A PSYCHOTHERAPIST.
HE LIVES IN NEW YORK
CITY WITH HIS ONLY SON,
MALKIEL, A JOURNALIST
WITH
THE NEW YORK TIMES.
AND FACED WITH THE ONSET,
THE FEAR OF ALZHEIMER,
HE CALLS UPON HIS SON TO
BEAR WITNESS IN HIS NAME.
THE BULK OF THE NOVEL'S
NARRATIVE WILL CONSIST
OF ELHANAN'S DICTATED
MEMORIES OF HIS CHILDHOOD,
AND HIS WARTIME
EXPERIENCE,
MEMORIES HE
DICTATES TO HIS SON.
INTERSPERSED WITH THOSE
DICTATED MEMORIES
ARE THE EVENTS OF
THE SON'S LIFE.
THERE IS A STRANGE MISSION
THAT ELHANAN ROSENBAUM
WILL ENTRUST TO
HIS SON.
HE IS TO GO TO ELHANAN'S
BIRTHPLACE IN ROMANIA.
AND THERE HE MUST FIND A
WOMAN, A CERTAIN WOMAN,
A GENTILE WOMAN, WHO WAS
THE VICTIM OF A BRUTAL ASSAULT
DURING THE LAST
MONTHS OF THE WAR.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF
MALKIEL MEETING THIS WOMAN
AFTER SO MANY YEARS IS
NOT MADE CLEAR.
I QUOTE ELHANAN'S
WORDS TO HIS SON,
"I TELL MYSELF YOU WILL
DISCOVER IN YOUR OWN WAY
WHAT MY LIPS
CANNOT SAY."
FOR THE PURPOSE OF
DISCUSSING THE NOVEL,
I'M GOING TO REARRANGE
THE MEMORIES
OF ELHANAN'S LIFE INTO
A CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER.
ELHANAN ROSENBAUM WAS
BORN IN THE CARPATHIAN
MOUNTAINS IN ROMANIA
IN A HASIDIC VILLAGE
CALLED FEHERFALU.
HIS CHILDHOOD
WAS MAGICAL.
LIKE ALL THE VILLAGERS,
ELHANAN GREW UP
TO SEE GOD
EVERYWHERE.
GOD WAS EVERYWHERE.
GOD WAS IN HIS LOVE
FOR HIS GRANDFATHER,
IN HIS GRANDFATHER'S
LOVE FOR HIM,
IN HIS GRANDFATHER'S
LOVE FOR THE RABBI,
RABBI NACHMAN ZENDER.
THERE ARE WONDERFUL
HASIDIC STORIES
IN THIS SECTION.
SOME ARE TOLD
BY THE RABBI.
SOME ARE EVENTS THAT
HAPPEN TO ELHANAN
THE CHILD HIMSELF.
LIKE HIS DECISION, BASED
UPON HIS GRANDFATHER'S
COUNSEL OF MERCY TO SPARE
THE EVIL SPIRIT
THAT LIVES IN THE
VILLAGE WELL.
THE VILLAGE HAS
GREAT CHARACTERS,
LIKE THE STRONG
MAN, BEL BRAZINSKI
WHO IS SO POWERFUL THAT
HE CAN SAY TO THE LEADER
OF THE LOCAL
ANTI-SEMITIC THUGS,
"HOLD YOUR BASTARDS BACK OR
I'LL BEAT YOU TO A PULP."
THERE ARE MYSTERIOUS
VISITORS,
LIKE THE OLD MAN WHO
SAYS ONCE TO THE CHILD,
"REMEMBER ONCE ON THE PATH
OF LIFE YOU CAME ACROSS
AN OLD JEW, AS OLD
AS THE WORLD ITSELF?"
THE CHILDHOOD WORLD
OF ELHANAN WAS DENSE,
IT WAS FILLED WITH WONDER
AND MAGIC AND MIRACLES
AND LOVE, IN A
GOD-INFORMED UNIVERSE.
FOR ME, THAT WORLD, AS
ELHANAN MEMBERS IT,
IS LIKE A CHAGALL
PAINTING.
ONE OF HIS
PAINTINGS OF VITEBSK.
EVERYTHING THAT
ELHANAN REMEMBERS
OF HIS VILLAGE
WAS GLORIOUS.
THE COLOURS
WERE BRIGHT.
THE RABBI COULD
WORK WONDERS.
THOSE IN LOVE
COULD FLY.
GOD WAS
EVERYWHERE.
ALL THINGS
WERE POSSIBLE.
AND AT THIS POINT
IN THE WRITING,
WIESEL'S WRITING COMES
VERY CLOSE TO LYRIC POETRY.
CONSIDER THIS PASSAGE.
"I BELIEVED MY GRANDFATHER
IS STRONGER THAN A LION.
HE SPOKE TO ME,
AND I LISTENED.
I SPOKE TO HIM,
AND HE LISTENED.
I LISTENED EVEN WHEN HE
WAS MEDITATING IN SILENCE.
I MEDITATED WITH HIM.
IT WAS HE WHO TAUGHT
ME TO LOVE THE VALLEYS
AND THE FIELDS AND
THE SHEPHERD'S FLUTES
CALLING THEIR FLOCKS
AT THE END OF THE DAY.
THE WIND RUSTLING THE
GRASS JUST BEFORE A STORM.
'EVERY BLADE OF GRASS
POSSESSED ITS OWN SONG,'
SAID THE RABBI.
AND ELHANAN LOVED HEARING
THE SONG OF THE EARTH
MIXED WITH THE
SONG OF THE SKY."
EXQUISITE.
AND THEN, JUST A LITTLE
LATER IN THE TEXT,
BRUSQUELY, SHOCKINGLY,
ELIE WIESEL CHANGES
FROM LYRIC POETRY TO THE
HARSHEST, HARSHEST PROSE.
"THE FASCISTS HAD SEIZED
POWER IN BUCHAREST.
GANGS OF THE IRON GUARD
WERE PLANNING A RAID
ON SYNAGOGUES AND
JEWISH HOMES.
NEUTRAL, THE POLICE
KEPT THEIR DISTANCE.
RUMOURS SPREAD IN
THE VILLAGE ABOUT
FASCIST ATROCITIES."
ELHANAN, THE BOY, IS SENT
IN THE CARE OF A BRIBED
HUNGARIAN ARMY OFFICER
TO THE NEARBY LARGER
COMMUNITY OF STANISLAV, TO
FIND OUT WHAT'S HAPPENING.
BUT WHILE HE IS
IN STANISLAV,
THE GHETTO THE SEALED.
HE'S UNABLE TO GET OUT.
AND HE IS CONSCRIPTED
BY THE FASCISTS
INTO A JEWISH
LABOUR UNIT.
HE ONLY FINDS OUT LATER
THAT WHEN THE FASCISTS
CAME TO HIS VILLAGE...
THE NAZIS AND THEIR
SYMPATHIZERS
NOMINATED HIS
BELOVED GRANDFATHER
AS THE ELDER OF
THE JEWS.
THEY WERE GOING TO
TRANSFER THE VILLAGE
COMMUNITY, THEY WERE
GOING TO DEPORT THEM
TO AUSCHWITZ, AND THEY
WANTED THE DEPORTATION
TO GO WITHOUT INCIDENT.
SO THEY TOLD HIS
GRANDFATHER,
THE ELDER OF THE RABBIS,
"WE ARE GOING TO TAKE
TEN JEWISH HOSTAGES
TO ENSURE CALM.
WRITE TEN JEWISH NAMES
ON THE PIECE OF PAPER."
AND THE GRANDFATHER WROTE
HIS OWN NAME TEN TIMES.
AND OF COURSE, HE WAS
BEATEN TO DEATH
FOR HIS INSOLENCE.
IN THE MEANTIME, ELHANAN
ESCAPES FROM THE LABOUR UNIT
TO JOIN THE PARTISANS.
THERE ARE FOOLISH CRITICS
OF ELIE WIESEL WHO SAY
THAT IN HIS BOOKS HE IS
CAPABLE OF ONLY ONE MOOD,
ONE TONE, THAT
OF MELANCHOLY.
BUT ELHANAN'S EXPLOITS
WITH THE PARTISANS
ARE AS EXCITING AS ANYTHING
YOU CAN READ IN JACK HIGGINS
OR GRISHAM OR DAN
BROWN OR TOM CLANCY.
ELIE WIESEL HAS A
FAST NARRATIVE PACE
IN THE ACTION SEQUENCES
WHICH LEAD TO EFFECTIVE
CRESCENDOS, AS THEY
ATTACK GERMAN PATROLS,
AND RESTAURANTS CROWDED
WITH GERMAN OFFICERS.
ELHANAN, NOW A JEWISH
RESISTANCE FIGHTER,
HAS LOVE AFFAIRS...
WHICH ARE BOTH
TENDER AND MOVING.
FIRST WITH VITKA,
A YOUNG WIDOW
WHO WATCHED HER HUSBAND
AND CHILDREN KILLED.
AND THEN WHEN SHE
DIES, WITH LIANKA,
ALSO A PARTISAN,
WHO ALSO DIES.
AND ELIE WIESEL IS AS
ADEPT AS HEMINGWAY
IN PORTRAYING LOVE AFFAIRS
AGAINST A BACKGROUND OF WAR.
THE END OF THE SECOND
WORLD WAR FINDS ELHANAN
IN A DP CAMP, A DISPLACED
PERSONS' CAMP, IN GERMANY.
AND THERE HE MEETS
A WOMAN, TALIA.
SHE IS A
ZIONIST AGENT.
SHE IS, IN FACT, AN
IRGUN AGENT.
AND SHE PERSUADES HIM TO
JOIN HER IN GOING TO
THEN BRITISH PALESTINE,
TO RECREATE ISRAEL.
STOPPED AT SEA
BY THE BRITISH,
THEY MARRY IN HASTE ON
THE SHIP BECAUSE TALIA
IS PALESTINIAN-BORN, AND SHE
HAS THE RIGHT OF RESIDENCE.
AND BY THE MARRIAGE,
ELHANAN GAINS
THE RIGHT OF
RESIDENCE.
THEY FIGHT TOGETHER FOR
ISRAEL'S INDEPENDENCE.
IN THE BATTLE
FOR JERUSALEM,
ELHANAN IS WOUNDED,
TAKING PRISONER
BY THE JORDANIANS.
AFTER THE ARMISTICE, HE
RETURNS TO JERUSALEM
ONLY TO DISCOVER THAT TALIA
HAS DIED IN CHILDBIRTH.
BEREFT, HE ACCEPTS THE
OFFER OF A SPONSORSHIP
BY AN AMERICAN COUSIN, AND
HE TAKES HIS BABY SON,
MALKIEL, GOD IS KING,
HE TAKES HIS BABY SON,
MALKIEL, WITH
HIM TO NEW YORK.
HE LOVES JERUSALEM,
AND HE LOVES ISRAEL,
BUT HE CANNOT BEAR
THE MEMORY OF TALIA.
AND ALWAYS, ALWAYS
IN NEW YORK
HE IS HAUNTED
BY TWO THINGS:
FIRST, HE CANNOT GIVE
MEANING TO WHAT
HE HAS LIVED THROUGH.
AND SECOND, HE IS
TORMENTED BY ONE
PARTICULAR EXPERIENCE.
IT WAS WHEN HE RETURNED
WITH FELLOW PARTISANS
TO HIS VILLAGE ONLY TO FIND
THAT HIS GRANDFATHER,
HIS WHOLE FAMILY,
HAD BEEN WIPED OUT,
AND IN AN ACT OF REVENGE,
ELHANAN'S FELLOW PARTISAN,
THE VIOLENT ITZHIK, ALREADY
KNOWN AS ITZHIK THE AVENGER,
BRUTALLY RAPES THE WIDOW
OF THE LOCAL FASCIST LEADER,
ZOLTAN KALANESKU.
ELHANAN COMES UPON THE
ATTACK AS IT IS GOING ON.
HE BEGS HIS
FRIEND TO STOP,
BUT HE DOES NOT
INTERVENE PHYSICALLY
TO STOP THE ASSAULT.
ALL HE CAN DO IS TO RAGE
LATER AGAINST ITZHIK.
HOW CAN YOU REDUCE
OUR WHOLE TRAGEDY
TO ONE BESTIAL ACT?
FOR ELHANAN IN THE NOVEL,
AS FOR ELIE WIESEL THE WRITER,
WHATEVER MEANING IS TO
BE FOUND IN HORROR,
IT WILL NOT BE
FOUND IN REVENGE.
FOR ELHANAN AND FOR
ELIE WIESEL, A PERSON,
A MAN, SHOULD BE, ABOVE
ALL THINGS, A MORAL BEING.
YEARS LATER, AS ELHANAN
DICTATES HIS MEMOIRS,
HIS CONFESSION TO
HIS SON, HE BEGINS,
"I SAW A CRIME
COMMITTED.
I FORGOT OUR
PRECEPTS, OUR LAWS,
THAT REQUIRE AN
INDIVIDUAL TO STRUGGLE
AGAINST EVIL
WHENEVER IT HAPPENS."
ELHANAN MAKES A LIFE FOR
HIMSELF AND HIS SON
IN NEW YORK LONG BEFORE
ALZHEIMER STRIKES.
THE EARLY YEARS
WERE DIFFICULT.
HE GOT A JOB AS A CANTOR IN A
GERMAN LANGUAGE SYNAGOGUE,
BUT HIS GERMAN
WASN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
HE GOT A JOB AS AN
ANNOUNCER IN A JEWISH
RADIO STATION, BUT HIS
YIDDISH WAS TOO GOOD,
TOO SCHOLARLY.
HE TRIED TO
SELL ART BOOKS,
BUT HIS ENGLISH
WASN'T ADEQUATE.
HE WORKED IN A
LAUNDRY AS A PRESSER,
BUT HIS ARMS WEREN'T
POWERFUL ENOUGH.
BUT HE MANAGED.
AND HE STUDIED AT
BROOKLYN COLLEGE,
AND HE BECAME, FINALLY,
A PSYCHOTHERAPIST.
MANY OF THE PEOPLE HE
TREATED WERE LIKE HIM:
SURVIVORS.
AND I FIND THE CASES THAT
ARE QUOTED IN THE NOVEL
BRILLIANTLY CHOSEN,
EVOCATIVE
OF ALL THE CONFUSION
AND THE HORROR.
I QUOTE, "THE MAN WHO COULD
NOT FORGIVE HIMSELF
FOR HAVING REFUSED
A PIECE OF BREAD
TO A FRIEND
BACK THERE.
THE RICH BUSINESSMAN WHO
WOKE IN THE MIDDLE
OF THE NIGHT, WENT
INTO HIS STUDY,
LOCKED IT AND WEPT.
ONE MAN SAID IN
A CAMP IN POLAND,
I SAW A GERMAN OFFICER
SLAUGHTER A FATHER
IN FRONT OF HIS
FOUR CHILDREN.
THAT DAY, I LOST
MY FAITH.
BUT ANOTHER MAN, IN
A CAMP IN POLAND,
I SAW THE EXTREME OF
HUMAN SOLIDARITY.
I SAW THREE STRANGERS
SACRIFICE THEIR HEALTH
AND THEIR SLEEP TO
SAVE A SICK PRISONER.
THAT DAY, MY FAITH
WAS RESTORED."
ALL THE HORROR,
ALL THE CONFUSION.
DURING ALL THIS TIME,
ELHANAN'S SON, MALKIEL,
GROWS TO ADULTHOOD.
THEN WE LIVE THE
TOUCHING DUET.
I FIND IT UNBEARABLY
TOUCHING,
BETWEEN FATHER AND
SON, AS ELHANAN,
WITH MEMORY FADING,
BEGINS TO DICTATE
HIS STORY TO HIS SON.
ONE PASSAGE ABOVE ALL,
IT TOUCHES ON LOVE
AND THE IMPORTANCE
OF MEMORY.
THE DOCTOR HAS JUST
MADE THE FIRM DIAGNOSIS
OF ALZHEIMER.
AND MALKIEL, WITH
HIS THROAT TIGHT,
AND HIS EYELIDS HEAVY,
SAYS TO HIS FATHER,
"LISTEN TO ME, FATHER,
YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN
AT THE CENTRE OF MY
EXISTENCE, AND YOU
WILL BE ALWAYS 'TIL
THE END OF MY DAYS."
AND ELHANAN REPLIES
WITH A SOB, "OH, GOD
OF MY FATHERS, LET ME
REMEMBER THOSE WORDS
WHEN I HAVE FORGOTTEN
EVERYTHING ELSE."
I CAN THINK OF FEW
PASSAGES SO MOVING.
BY THE WAY, WHAT
ABOUT THE SON MALKIEL?
I HAVE SO FAR GIVEN
HIM VERY LITTLE TIME.
HE IS A WELL
KNOWN JOURNALIST
FOR
THE NEW YORK TIMES.
HE IS, AS PART OF
THAT, THE EDITOR
OF THE PRESTIGIOUS
OBITUARY PAGE.
HE HAS AN INTENSE AND
LOVING RELATIONSHIP
WITH HIS FATHER.
HE HAS HAD SEVERAL
LOVE AFFAIRS,
INCLUDING ONE EARLY ONE
WITH HIS PROMISCUOUS
COUSIN, RITA.
HE'S HAD ONE LOVE-HATE
RELATIONSHIP WITH
AN ARAB STUDENT, LAYLA.
DURING THE COURSE
OF THE NOVEL,
HE HAS AN UNEASY
AND BRIEF AFFAIR
WITH A GERMAN WOMAN.
A GOOD WOMAN, BUT THE
BURDEN OF HISTORY
PLAYS A FATEFUL PART.
AND THEN, HE MEETS
HIS TRUE LOVE, TAMAR,
ALSO A REPORTER,
ALSO JEWISH,
ALSO WORKING FOR
THE NEW YORK TIMES.
AND I LOVE THE CIRCUMSTANCES
OF THEIR MEETING.
I LOVED IT.
"THEIR FIRST MEETING
AT
THE TIMES,
AT THE END OF
THE '70s.
TAMAR WAS A POLITICAL
REPORTER, A STAR.
MALKIEL WAS A
REWRITE MAN.
SHE BROUGHT IN
SOME COPY.
HANDED IT TO
THE EDITOR.
HE SCANNED IT, DROPPED
IT ON MALKIEL'S DESK.
CUT IT DOWN A LITTLE, NOT
TOO MUCH, BE CAREFUL.
TAMAR DOESN'T LIKE PEOPLE
TOUCHING HER COPY.
IT WAS A PIECE ABOUT SOME
LOCAL POLITICAL CAMPAIGN.
CHARGES,
COUNTERCHARGES.
MALKIEL KNEW
HIS STUFF.
MELT DOWN THE FAT.
CUT THE COSMETICS
AND THE COLORATURA.
THE CLASSIC RULE OF
GOOD JOURNALISM:
HONOUR THE VERB,
SACRIFICE THE ADJECTIVE.
AND THEN THE
RHYTHM, BE CAREFUL
ABOUT PACE AND RHYTHM.
AN EASY JOB,
ALL TECHNIQUE,
QUICKLY ACCOMPLISHED.
THE PIECE RAN
ON PAGE ONE.
HIS BOSS WAS
PLEASED.
TAMAR WAS NOT."
IT'S A FANTASTIC
PASSAGE.
AND FROM THE POINT
OF VIEW OF STYLE,
UNBELIEVABLY GOOD.
WIESEL IS USING A TECHNIQUE
CALLED STICHOMYTHIA.
IN STICHOMYTHIA, ONE USES
BRIEF STACCATO SENTENCES
TO CREATE THE
ILLUSION OF MOVEMENT,
THE ILLUSION OF ACTION.
IT IS THE BASIS OF GOOD
NEWSPAPER REPORTING.
I FOUND IT WITTY AND
EFFECTIVE AND INGENIOUS
OF ELIE WIESEL TO USE A
NEWSPAPER WRITING TECHNIQUE
TO DESCRIBE THE MEETING
OF TWO NEWSPAPER PEOPLE.
AFTER THAT SHAKY START,
MALKIEL AND TAMAR,
FALL, OF COURSE,
DEEPLY IN LOVE.
AND THEIR LOVE IS NURTURED
BY TAMAR'S SENSITIVITY
TO MALKIEL'S FATHER,
TO ELHANAN.
SHE SAYS AT ONE POINT
TO MALKIEL, "YOU KNOW,
YOU THINK OF YOUR
FATHER, AND YOU DESPAIR.
FROM NOW ON, I WILL
THINK OF HIM, TOO,
BUT SO AS NOT
TO DESPAIR.
HE'S SINKING
INTO OLD AGE,
WE WILL REMEMBER HIM
AS HE USED TO BE."
AND AGAIN IT IS THERE,
THE IMPORTANCE OF MEMORY.
WE BESTOW IMMORTALITY
ON THOSE WE LOVE
BY REMEMBERING THEM.
AND WE ALSO BESTOW
IMMORTALITY ON THOSE
WE LOVE BY
LIVING FOR THEM.
I HEED THE RABBI'S WORDS
TO MALKIEL IN THE NOVEL.
I QUOTE THE RABBI,
"SPEAK IN HIS PLACE,
PRAY IN HIS NAME, DO WHAT
HE IS INCAPABLE OF DOING.
LEARN SINCE HE
NO LONGER LEARNS.
BE HAPPY SINCE HE
NO LONGER LAUGHS."
AND THEN MALKIEL GOES ON
HIS MISSION TO FERHERFALU.
HE MEETS THE GLAMOROUS
AND WILLING INTERPRETER
LYDIA, BUT HIS
PILGRIMAGE COMES FIRST.
HE LOCATES THE GRAVE
DIGGER WHO BURIED
HIS GRANDFATHER.
HE MEETS AN OLD BLIND JEW
FULL OF HASIDIC STORIES
WHO SAYS, "I ESCAPED THE
NAZIS BECAUSE I KNOW
HOW TO MAKE MYSELF
INVISIBLE BY
KABBALAHISTIC INCANTATION."
AND FINALLY, HE FINDS THE
VICTIM OF ITZHIK'S RAPE.
AND UNDER HIS
QUESTIONING, RELUCTANTLY,
THE WOMAN RELIVES THOSE
TERRIBLE MOMENTS.
THE STORY IS TOLD, THE
WORDS ARE SPOKEN ALOUD.
AND IN THE SPEAKING, SHE
FINDS SOME KIND OF RELIEF,
SOME KIND OF MEANING,
SOME KIND OF CATHARSIS.
WIESEL SEEMS TO BE
TELLING US
THAT WORDS ARE IMPORTANT;
SILENCE IS NOT THE ANSWER.
WHAT MEANING THE WOMAN
FOUND IN THAT RESTORATION
OF MEMORY, IN THE
RETELLING OF THE STORY,
WE CANNOT KNOW, BUT IT
IS CLEAR THAT MEMORIES
SPOKEN ALOUD HAS
MADE A DIFFERENCE.
I QUOTE,
"RELIEF, RELIEF SOFTENED
ELENA KALANESKU'S FACE.
'WILL YOU ALLOW AN OLD
WOMAN TO THANK YOU
AND TO KISS YOU?'
SHE KISSED HIS
FOREHEAD.
'THANK YOU FOR COMING.'
SHE KISSED HIM AGAIN,
'AND THANK YOUR FATHER.'"
AND THAT, REALLY, IS
THE END OF THE NOVEL.
MALKIEL WILL
RETURN TO NEW YORK,
AND HE AND TAMAR WILL
BUILD A FUTURE TOGETHER.
THEY WILL BICKER.
TAMAR IS A
LITTLE TOO FOND,
IN MALKIEL'S ESTIMATION,
OF PUTTING FORWARD
THE PALESTINIAN CASE IN
THE MIDDLE EASTERN DEBATE,
BUT TAMAR WILL HELP
HIM TO WEATHER
ELHANAN'S LAST DAYS.
AND THAT LEADS ME TO
ALMOST MY LAST POINT.
STRANGELY ENOUGH,
IT'S ABOUT HUMOUR.
IT IS ODD TO THINK THAT
THERE CAN BE HUMOUR
IN THIS BOOK ABOUT
WAR, AND HORROR,
AND LOSS AND MEMORY.
BUT THERE IS HUMOUR, AND
IT IS VERY WELL DONE.
THE EXAMPLE I HAVE IN
MIND IS WHEN MALKIEL
IS FIRST INVITED TO
MEET TAMAR'S FAMILY.
I QUOTE,
"MALKIEL OCCUPIED
THE PLACE OF HONOUR
TO THE RIGHT OF THE
LADY OF THE HOUSE.
SHE HAD ROASTED THE
TRADITIONAL TURKEY.
UNFORTUNATELY, MALKIEL
DETESTED TURKEY.
'EAT, EAT, YOU'LL ENJOY
IT,' SAID TAMAR'S MOTHER."
I QUOTE, "A TRUE
JEWISH MOTHER.
'I'M A VEGETARIAN,'
MALKIEL SAID.

[laughter]

Robert continues 'TAMAR,' HER MOTHER CRIED,
'YOU NEVER TOLD ME
YOU WERE MARRYING
A VEGETARIAN.
WHAT IS THAT,
A VEGETARIAN?
WHAT RELIGION
IS THAT?'
'DON'T MAKE A
FUSS, MOTHER.
YOU CAN BE JEWISH
AND VEGETARIAN
AT THE SAME TIME.'"
THE MOTHER, "'BUT TURKEY
IS KOSHER, I SWEAR IT.'
'LEAVE HIM ALONE,'
TAMAR SAID,
'HE'S NOT MUCH
OF AN EATER.'
'OI, OI, OI, I
FEEL FOR YOU.
MEN WHO DON'T EAT WELL
DON'T MAKE GOOD HUSBANDS.'"

[laughter]

Robert continues AND WE LAUGH, AND
WE LAUGH ALOUD.
AND HOW CAN WE LAUGH
ALOUD WHEN WE HAVE READ
A BOOK ABOUT HORROR?
HOW CAN WE LAUGH ALOUD
AND REMEMBER THE HORROR?
I'VE HEARD ELIE WIESEL
JUSTIFY HIS HUMOUR.
I QUOTE HIM.
"I ALWAYS TEACH MY STUDENTS
THAT IN JEWISH LAW,
THERE ARE RULES
ABOUT MOURNING,
THERE ARE LIMITS.
YOU CANNOT GO BEYOND
A CERTAIN PERIOD
OF MOURNING.
WE SIT SHIVA FOR ONE
WEEK, FOR A MONTH,
SHLOSHIM, FOR A YEAR, WE
SAY KADDISH EVERY DAY.
BUT AFTER A YEAR,
ONLY ON YARZHEIT,
ONLY ON THE ANNIVERSARY
OF THE DEATH.
ONE SHOULD NOT GO
TOO FAR IN MOURNING.
WE SHOULD MOURN
IN REMEMBRANCE,
BUT JEWISH HISTORY AND
LIFE ARE MORE THAN THAT.
WE MUST GO
BEYOND ALL THAT.
WE CANNOT STAY
ANCHORED IN MELANCHOLY."
WIESEL TELLS US, "THERE
IS A LIFE TO LIVE,
AND A WORLD TO HEAL,
TO MAKE BETTER.

He says something in Yiddish and continues
WE MUST REMEMBER, WE
MUST HONOUR MEMORY,
WE MUST TELL THE
STORY, WE MUST
TRY TO FIND MEANING.
BUT AT THE SAME TIME,
WE MUST CELEBRATE LIFE."
AS DID WIESEL'S
HASIDIC MASTERS
OFTEN IN CIRCUMSTANCES
OF INCREDIBLE MISERY.
"LAUGHTER," WIESEL SAYS "IS
PART OF THE CELEBRATION
OF LIFE, IN REMEMBERING,
IN TELLING THE STORY,
IN QUESTIONING OURSELVES,
IN KNOWING OURSELVES
AS MORAL BEINGS.
IN SEEKING MEANING WHERE
MEANING MAY NOT EXIST.
AND IN CELEBRATING
LIFE IS OUR VICTORY.
TO DO ANYTHING LESS IS
TO BETRAY THE MARTYRS."
ON A PERSONAL NOTE.
ON NOVEMBER 4, 2008,
TWO YEARS AGO,
Dr. WIESEL CAME TO
SPEAK AT A FUNDRAISER
IN MONTREAL, AND I
WAS ASKED TO HOST
THE CEREMONIES
AND TO PRESENT HIM.
LET ME READ A PART OF
MY OPENING ADDRESS.
TO LIST ALL OF
Dr. WIESEL'S HONOURS
WOULD BE TO TAKE
THE ENTIRE EVENING.
HE HOLDS MORE THAN 130
HONORARY DOCTORATES.
IN THE UNITED STATES
OF WHICH HE HAS BEEN
A CITIZEN SINCE 1963, HE
HOLDS THE PRESIDENTIAL
MEDAL OF FREEDOM, AND THE
CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL.
FROM THE STATE OF ISRAEL,
HE HAS THE JABOTINSKY MEDAL.
IN FRANCE, HE IS A
COMMANDER OF THE
LEGION D' HONOR.
AND HE HAS BEEN KNIGHTED
BY THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND.
IN 1978, Dr. WIESEL WAS
APPOINTED CHAIRMAN
OF THE PRESIDENT'S COMMISSION
ON THE HOLOCAUST.
AND IN 1980, HE BECAME
THE FOUNDING CHAIRMAN
OF THE UNITED STATES
HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL COUNCIL.
IN 1986, ELIE WIESEL WON
THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE.
AND IN THAT SAME YEAR, HE
AND HIS WIFE FOUNDED
THE ELI AND MARION WIESEL
FOUNDATION FOR HUMANITY
TO ADVANCE THE TWIN
CAUSES OF HUMAN RIGHTS
AND PEACE.
IN THE 1960s, ELIE WIESEL
FLEW TO THE SOVIET UNION
TO GIVE COMFORT AND
SUCCOR TO THE PERSECUTED JEWS
OF THE SOVIET UNION.
IN THE 1970s, HE WROTE,
HE SPOKE, HE MARCHED,
HE SHOUTED AGAINST
APARTHEID IN SOUTH AFRICA.
IN THE 1980s, HE FLEW FOOD TO
THE STARVING IN CAMBODIA.
IN THE 1990s, HE
SUCCESSFULLY HARANGUED
THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT
INTO INTERVENING
TO STOP THE
MASSACRES IN BOSNIA.
IN 2006, HE ADDRESSED
THE SECURITY COUNCIL
OF THE UNITED NATIONS
ON THE GENOCIDE
THAT IS TAKING
PLACE IN DARFUR.
ELI WIESEL IS NEVER SILENT
WHENEVER HUMAN BEINGS
ENDURE SUFFERING
OR HUMILIATION.
HE IS OUR WITNESS,
OUR MEMORY,
HE IS THE ARTICULATED AND
EXPRESSED CONSCIENCE
OF OUR GENERATION.
MEETING ELIE WIESEL GAVE ME
A CHANCE TO ACKNOWLEDGE
TO HIM A DEBT I OWED
HIM OTHER THAN
THE INSTRUCTION AND THE
ENJOYMENT I HAD RECEIVED
FROM READING HIS WORK.
I SPOKE TO HIM PRIVATELY,
AND I REPEATED MY WORDS
ON STAGE THAT NIGHT
TWO YEARS AGO.
WHAT I SAID WAS...
ON THAT TERRIBLE DAY,
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001,
I WAS IN A HOTEL ROOM
IN TORONTO, HERE.
I WAS DUE TO SPEAK THAT
NIGHT AT THE HART HOUSE
THEATRE AT THE
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO.
IT WAS THE MORNING.
PEARL CALLED ME
TO THE TELEVISION.
AND WE BOTH WATCHED THE
HORROR AS THE MURDERERS
CRASHED THE SECOND PLANE
INTO THE TWIN TOWERS.
LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE IN
THE CIVILIZED WORLD,
I WAS DISTRAUGHT.
I DIDN'T KNOW
WHAT TO DO.
MY FIRST THOUGHT
WAS TO CANCEL.
BUT THEN I REMEMBERED WHAT
ELIE WIESEL HAD SAID
AND WRITTEN, AND I DID GIVE
MY LECTURE THAT NIGHT.
I GAVE A REVIEW OF
A HUMOROUS NOVEL.
AND I GAVE THE REVIEW
JUST AS I HAD PLANNED IT
WITH THE SILLY JOKES,
AND THE FOOLISH STORIES
THAT I INCLUDED.
AND I GAVE THE WHOLE
LECTURE WITH TEARS
POURING DOWN MY FACE.
BUT I PARAPHRASED
ELIE WIESEL'S WORDS
TO BEGIN MY TALK.
AND I ACKNOWLEDGED THE
SOURCE OF THOSE WORDS.
WHAT I SAID WAS ELIE
WIESEL HAS TAUGHT US
THAT IN THE FACE OF APPARENTLY
MEANINGLESS HORROR,
WE MUST GO ON.
WE MUST CONTINUE
TO CELEBRATE LIFE,
TO SEARCH FOR
MEANING, TO FIND LOVE,
AND EVEN TO LAUGH.
BECAUSE TO DO
ANYTHING ELSE,
TO GIVE WAY TO
INDIFFERENCE AND DESPAIR
WOULD BE TO GIVE
VICTORY TO THE BEAST.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

[applause]

Watch: Robert Adams on The Forgotten