Elizabeth Gelman, Executive Director of The Florida Holocaust Museum
I cannot describe the sorrow I felt when I heard that Elie Wiesel had passed away. Like most of my generation, his book Night was the first I had ever read about the Holocaust. I still remember the strained conversations in my high school classroom. How could this have happened? And why didn’t anyone do anything to stop it?
Over 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we are still pondering the same questions.
Professor Wiesel was an extraordinary man, who used his personal experiences of the Holocaust to work on behalf of all oppressed people, to defend human rights and encourage peace throughout the world.
His mantra was: Education. Education. Education. That the more tomorrow’s adults knew of the consequences of prejudice and hatred, the brighter humanity’s future would be.
Professor Wiesel had been involved with The Florida Holocaust Museum since its inception, almost 25 years ago, serving as Honorary Chairman and advisor throughout its journey from a small room at the back of a Jewish Community Center to its present site in downtown St Petersburg. He was on hand to cut the ribbon when the downtown museum opened to the public in 1998.
In 2012, The FHM honored Professor Wiesel with the Loebenberg Humanitarian Award during its annual To Life gala. Speaking to a packed audience that included community leaders as well as high school and college students, Professor Wiesel cautioned them that silence is never the answer and “forgetfulness is close to a crime.”
Called a “messenger to mankind” by the Nobel Committee as they awarded him Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, and “one of the most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterize the world,” Professor Wiesel’s death leaves a large vacuum at a time when his words and deeds are desperately needed. The most meaningful act each one of us can do to honor his memory is to be his legacy and his witness. To remember and pass down his story and the stories of all those who endured the incomprehensible anguish of the Holocaust and other genocides. To raise our voices whenever and wherever we see human beings enduring suffering and humiliation today.
And, most importantly, to not lose hope. In the words of Professor Wiesel, “Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.”