Elie Wiesel Carolyn Cole/Getty Images

The Humble Nobility of Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel set himself just one task, at once impossible and categorical: to become the cenotaph of the countless campmates who had, in the face of God’s silence, chanted the Kaddish for their own passing. For this, he had only his tongue, and not even his native tongue.

PARIS – It begins in a world now gone, lying at the borders of Ruthenia, Bukovina, and Galicia, forgotten places that were the glory of the Habsburg Empire and of European Judaism. Seventy years later, all that remains of this world are ruined palaces, empty Baroque churches, and synagogues leveled and never rebuilt. And now it has lost one of its last witnesses: Elie Wiesel.

Wiesel survived the obliteration of this world, and from it fashioned a second birth, devoting his life, in fear and trembling, to resurrecting those who perished. That, for me, is what stands out in the life of the author of Night and Messengers of God.

In the years after 1945, Wiesel rubbed elbows with the greatest of the great. He garnered the same vast, worldwide, enduring admiration as Yehudi Menuhin. But he never stopped being that yehudi, that ordinary Jew, that survivor whose heart would pound as he passed through customs in New York or Paris.

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