Elie Wiesel’s Legacy Inspires New Generation to Counter Injustice
By Zahava Moerdler
I will never forget the first time I read Night. I was in 8th grade and my class spent the year learning about the Holocaust. Although Night is not a very long book, I couldn’t finish it. As a granddaughter of survivors, I just could not finish it.
Years later, when I was a student at Barnard College, Elie Wiesel came to speak. I was among a small group of students privileged enough to meet with him before the presentation. Wiesel told us that “indifference is never an option. Whenever there is injustice, don’t wait. Fight it immediately. Denounce it immediately.” His powerful words are ones we can all live by: Whenever there is intolerance and injustice, do not sit by idly. Act.
Needless to say, I finally finished Night after hearing Wiesel speak.
On July 5, Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, author, teacher, and human rights defender, passed away. His loss was felt around the world. But his memory will live on through the messages and legacy he has left behind. To quote Wiesel, “We must all be witnesses to memory.” And in this case, we will be witnesses to his memory.
Wiesel was staunchly outspoken against antisemitism and intolerance. Speaking on a panel at Cooper Union in 2014, Wiesel noted, “Things change, anti-Semitism remains. Where did we go wrong? What did we do to deserve the hate? ‘Why,’ you ask yourself, ‘Why?’ The questions are as old as Jewish history itself.”
Remembering Wiesel, President Obama said, “He raised his voice, not just against anti-Semitism, but against hatred, bigotry and intolerance in all its forms. He implored each of us, as nations and as human beings, to do the same, to see ourselves in each other and to make real that pledge of ‘never again.'”
Wiesel left us with an important challenge to continue his fight. Not only must we be witnesses to memory, but we must also be outspoken proponents of change. With silence comes apathy and indifference, which Wiesel would not tolerate.
With the same zeal he brought to every injustice he spoke out against, we must raise our voices too. And we must not just speak, we must act in ways, small and large, that help bridge divides. Wiesel was not only an ambassador for Holocaust remembrance, urging people to listen to survivors—both their stories and their silence—but also a leader in the fight against racism and its roots.
Europe stands at the brink. With the rise of extremism across the continent, Russian aggression, and homegrown Euroscepticism, the United States must once again turn its attention to Europe.
Out of the tragedy of the Holocaust came a universal commitment to human rights. But that is not a one-time achievement—we cannot grow complacent in protecting that commitment. As partners in promoting human rights around the world, the United States and Europe should listen closely to Wiesel’s messages, standing firm against intolerance and bigotry.
As witnesses to memory, the United States and Europe should heed the lessons of the past in order to build a stronger future on the pillars of respect for human rights and democratic values. This cannot wait.