Sunday, July 3, 2016

Bearing Witness

I saw Elie Wiesel when I was in grad school--it would have been in the late 80's or early 90's.  I paid nothing to go see him.  Our campus pastor knew that he was coming to Columbia, South Carolina, and he could take a group--he asked me if I wanted to go, and I said sure.

I knew who Wiesel was, but I had only read Night; I've still only read Night.  I can't remember anything about what Wiesel said the night that I went to see him at a church or a synagogue in Columbia, but I remember being inspired.  If I had to guess, I'd guess that he talked about systems of repression present in the world at that time, probably South Africa or Central America.

I'm interested in Wiesel's ideas about our responsibilities to bear witness.  When I read the discussions of many artists today, we cover lots of topics, but rarely do I hear us explore the need to bear witness.

NPR quotes him as saying about the Holocaust:   "To forget the victims means to kill them a second time. So I couldn't prevent the first death. I surely must be capable of saving them from a second death."

Sadly his views on injustice seem more relevant than ever:  "Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.  Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant."

I let go of my copy of Night long ago because I figured I'd always be able to find a copy when I needed it.  A shame--I'd like to spend the afternoon rereading it.

So, maybe I'll read a different work of witness--Angels in America is still calling me.

No comments: