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Elie Wiesel:
And the Sea is Never Full
Elie Wiesel
  And the Sea is Never Full  
Elie Wiesel    
an excerpt

reading

interview



 
"All rivers run into the sea; and the sea is never full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing."

--Ecclesiastes


In the concluding volume of Elie Wiesel's memoirs, we see Wiesel at odds with some of the most powerful men in the world--Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Francois Mitterand, among others--in his quest to make sure that Nazi crimes against the Jews are remembered in the right way, and for the right reasons: with gravity, and in order to prevent genocide for future generations. His enemies are political convenience and time itself: how else can one explain Reagan's decision to visit the Bitburg cemetery to commemorate the SS? How else can one explain Lech Walesa's refusal to mention Jews when speaking publicly about Nazi atrocities? Wiesel's prominence as a writer, speaker, and (sometimes reluctant) head of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council has required him to voice his disgust when political expediencies take precedence over moral imperatives. But in so doing, he often faces uncomfortable contradictions within himself.

When Elie Wiesel was liberated from Buchenwald in 1945, having also been in Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Buna, and having lost his parents and sister during his stay in the camps, he imposed a ten-year vow of silence upon himself before he would attempt to write about what he saw and experienced there. When he did write about the experience of the Jews during this time, the result was Night, a slender book that became a worldwide bestseller and is considered by many to be the most powerful work ever written about that experience. Yet its author's hesitation to write about the Event, as he sometimes calls it, and his continuing fear that even speaking about Auschwitz will trivialize, or did trivialize, what happened there, still haunt him. On the one hand, he brought the word "holocaust" into modern use to describe the Nazi genocide of World War II; on the other, he must now suffer the Holocaust analogies that roll off of every CNN reporter's tongue each time something bad happens in the world. He is the first to speak up when dictators use their power to criminal ends, but he refuses to profane the memory of the dead by invoking an event of singular evil to score a cheap rhetorical point.

This conflict between his desire to speak out, and his fear that in doing so he might dishonor the memory of the Jews who died during the Holocaust, is but one aspect of Elie Wiesel's extraordinary personality. Many public figures have lived lives filled with impressive accomplishments, but few have the facility with language and capacity for self-examination that make And the Sea is Never Full such a compelling memoir. In this issue of Bold Type, Elie Wiesel offers an interview, an excerpt from the book, and also a passage from the first volume of his memoirs, All Rivers Run to the Sea.
 
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  Photo of Elie Wiesel copyright © Philippe Halsman

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