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An Evening with Elie Wiesel

On Thursday, October 11, Barnard College welcomed Elie Wiesel, the celebrated writer, political activist, and Nobel laureate. He delivered a lecture on the power of memory and desire for resolution, and met with a small group of students as well as a group of faculty.

Attended by more than 400 alumnae, students, faculty, and friends of the college, the event opened with remarks by President Spar, who recalled the Nobel committee’s description of Prof. Wiesel as “a messenger to mankind,” teaching “peace, atonement and human dignity.”

“Calling on his own poignant and powerful experiences, Professor Wiesel has spent a lifetime shedding light on the struggle for lasting peace, the importance of resolution, and the role that memory plays in these vital pursuits,” said Spar, noting that he has written more than 50 books including his extraordinary memoir Night and his latest, Hostage, a novel which addresses the legacy of the Holocaust and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Prof. Wiesel spoke about the experience of his Hungarian village during World War II, explaining that his community was one of the last taken by the Nazis, and that until that point, they had no idea what was happening to Jewish people throughout Europe. “Everyone else knew, except we the future victims,” he said, describing how, while being transported to concentration camps, they saw the word “Auschwitz” on a sign outside the train, and they did not know what it meant. 

Recalling the lack of action taken by those who were aware of the Holocaust, Prof. Wiesel urged the audience to remember the importance of fighting not only injustice, but also indifference. “Indifference is never an option,” he said. “How long can we wait and say, ‘let’s see where this injustice is going’? Whenever there is injustice, don’t wait. Fight it immediately. Denounce it immediately.”

Following his remarks, Prof. Wiesel answered questions from the audience. A Barnard alumna asked Prof. Wiesel about the most important life lessons she, as a second grade teacher, could offer her students. “The key word should be sensitivity,” Prof. Wiesel responded. “Teach your children to be sensitive. Insensitivity is almost a disease.”

Other audience members asked about how the lessons of the Holocaust should be taught, once the generation that lived through it is gone, and what children of survivors should ask their parents while they still have the opportunity. Prof. Wiesel noted how he wrote for his fellow survivors, encouraging them to speak about their experiences. “As long as survivors are here, listen to them—even to their silence,” he said.

This event was sponsored by The Ingeborg, Tamara, and Yonina Rennert Women in Judaism Forum Fund.

Students from Barnard and Columbia met with Prof. Wiesel prior to his lecture.