Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Culture

Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel Created A Legacy Of Remembrance


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. He was a Nobel laureate, an acclaimed author, human rights activist. He was also a survivor of the Holocaust and spent his life teaching people how to understand the darker parts of our humanity, but to look always to the light. Elie Wiesel has died at the age of 87.

SARA BLOOMFIELD: The world is different today. It's a diminished place.

MARTIN: This is the voice of Sara Bloomfield. She's the director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which Elie Wiesel helped create. We asked her to help us remember Wiesel and the powerful legacy he leaves behind.

BLOOMFIELD: You know, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, when the world was not really looking back and remembering, he could not forget. And he had a drive and a compulsion to remember, but to give a voice to those who had been silenced. And he gave that voice through "Night" and through his other writings in a way that I think makes the Holocaust continue to resonate through the generations.

MARTIN: How did he bear that responsibility?

BLOOMFIELD: I would say with a lot of humility and anguish. I mean, I think it was a burden for him. And by the way, I want to be clear - I don't think Elie would ever say that he speaks for the dead or he speaks for survivors. I think he - in fact, he would say no one can, that that is sacred space. But he felt he had to give a voice to his own experience and hope that in doing that he would illuminate not only the suffering, but the lessons and the challenge to the future.

MARTIN: And he was very clear. He said numerous times he was spared and he was not to squander that opportunity.

BLOOMFIELD: Yes. It was a big responsibility and a big burden. And I think he felt that as much as he could do, it would never be enough. The ultimate goal would be not only memory, but the action that would come from memory, that memory would inspire a different future for mankind.

MARTIN: Can you trace his evolution from survivor to writer to human rights activist?

BLOOMFIELD: Well, you know, he published "Night" very early. It was published in 1955. I think sometimes people forget it was at a moment when not many people were talking about their experiences. So he came right out of the Holocaust and published that. And I think that really was the beginning of a movement. And then as that grew to prominence - and then, of course, he was recognized with the Nobel Prize and so many other well-deserved recognitions - I think he realized that his responsibility, in fact, had grown greater and that there was more that he had to do. And he took on this role as human rights advocate and, I think, moral leader and a person who would speak truth to power.

MARTIN: You did know him. Can you talk about who he was on a personal level?

BLOOMFIELD: Many ways you could describe Elie Wiesel - thinker, human rights advocate, writer. He would, I think, most want to be known as being a teacher. He really cared about teaching. And I think he thought everything he did was in the service of education, including the museum, and that reaching young people and reaching new generations was the highest calling that you could have. I would also say that, you know, he was a man of great humility and dignity. I was - he would always say to me as we grew close over the years, Sarah, tell me how I can be helpful to you. Tell me what I can do for you. And knowing that I had his friendship and his moral support always meant so much.

MARTIN: Sara Bloomfield is the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Thank you so much for talking with us and helping us remember Elie Wiesel and your friend.

BLOOMFIELD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.