Elie Wiesel published NIGHT in 1958, thirteen years after his liberation from the Nazi death camp of Buchenwald at 6 P.M. on April 10, 1945. It is said he could not or would not speak of his experience for several years, but decided he needed to face the memories and the horror of his experience because the world needed to remember.
Excerpts from that speech in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 1986:
“I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the Kingdom of the Night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.”
I remember he asked his father, ‘Can this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed. How could the world remain silent?
And now the boy is turning to me. ‘Tell me,’ he asks, ‘what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?’ And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. BECAUSE IF WE FORGET, WE ARE GUILTY, WE ARE ACCOMPLICES.”
As a caravan of desperate Central American men, women and children from Honduras snake their way north to a land which they hope will give them a chance for sanctuary from a despotic, violent government, will America shut the door?
In June of 1939 nine-hundred-thirty-seven passengers aboard the ship St. Louis, most of them European Jews, were denied entry to the port of Miami and forced to return to Europe; more than a quarter died in the Holocaust. Our government under FDR stated that they posed a national security threat.
In February of 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR ordered the internment of 110,000 – 120,000 Japanese-Americans in western parts of the United States. Sixty-two percent of those were United States citizens. Again the government said they posed a national security threat, but historians lay the blame on racism.
“And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”
How can we remain silent?