The world has lost a truly visionary man. Elie Wiesel has died at age 87.
When I was just a boy, my family had the honor of the friendship of Louis and Irene Ziff. They lived in the neighborhood we shared for many years. And frequently, they would share meals at my aunt and uncles house, in that same neighborhood.
What I came to learn from this couple, was that they also, were Holocaust survivors. For many years, we listened to their stories, which became hideously vivid, when they pointed out to me the numbers tattooed on their arms.
World History, was not something my family spoke about, unless of course, it had anything to do with Viet Nam. During this period of time, I was in elementary school, and History was really not something taught at that level. And thinking about this further, I don’t ever remember, studying this period of time, in any of my middle or high school curriculum, until I hit university here in Montreal.
I remember that along a stretch of highway we traveled daily, there was a Jewish cemetery right off that highway. When Louis and Irene died, and with them their stories, they were buried in that same cemetery.
Every day or night, when we passed it, I would think of them fondly.
It wasn’t until I moved to Canada in 2002, and eventual enrollment in University that the Holocaust would become concrete for me. I spent a calendar year, studying at the feet of one certain professor, who was also a survivor, who used his class, quite expertly, to teach students about the darkest chapter in human history.
Many books were read, NIGHT by Elie Wiesel, and Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levy, were two of my favorite books, that I read continually for many years.
Here in Montreal, we have our own Holocaust Memorial Center/Museum, that holds the treasures of stories and experiences from survivors of the Holocaust. I spent a great deal of time, during my studies, in the center, because my Academic Mentor was a guide in the museum.
Montreal is made up of many different people, from across the globe. Our Jewish Community is large, and diverse. Included in this community are men and women, who survived the Holocaust and came to Canada, when it was much younger.
And Canada welcomed them, and gave them solace and respite after living through that darkest period in Human History. To this day, in many schools across Montreal, men and women talk to our young people, because the Middle School level programs do not include education on this topic, so it falls to the survivors and family, friends, and teachers who are involved in continuing to share their stories with them.
Our Jewish community also sends their children to Israel and Eastern Europe to visit Holocaust Memorials, and the Concentration Camps themselves. This journey, for our young men and women, is regarded as a rite of passage, to visit hallowed sites, and to learn, experience, and bring back with them stories that they will tell their children and families, when the next generation comes.
It is written that:
PEOPLE WHO DO NOT LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES THE FIRST TIME, ARE DESTINED TO REPEAT THEM.
You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes and a no.
Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without name
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At Home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.
Survival in Auschwitz
Elie Wiesel was one of the most important Elder Statesmen the world has ever encountered. His witness, his life, after leaving post WWII Europe, is a testament to just how important it is that we REMEMBER, and never FORGET.
If we do not carry his message, his STORY for the rest of our lives, to teach our children just how easy it was for someone to commit such wide spread Atrocities and crimes against humanity.
Stories are the most important words we have in our lives. Because we learn more about ourselves, when we listen to someone else, tell us their story.
Life is not meant to be lived inside a bubble, of N.I.M.B.Y.
NOT IN MY BACK YARD.
We have a choice, to ignore the history that changed humanity, sticking our heads in the sand and singing, la,la,la,la … I can’t hear you or we can listen and learn about how we save humanity from a fate that should never be repeated as long as man lives.