Wiesel reflects on Darfur and never again

Never again.

That’s what Holocaust survivor and 1986 Nobel Prize recipient Elie Wiesel thought in 1945 after World War II.

Never again would humanity allow the tragedy of genocide, of hate, of indifference and of apathy.

“It became a symbol for us to learn from the past,” Wiesel told 1,700 admirers on Sunday, May 21 in the Memorial Auditorium at Stanford University.

61 years later, he stands corrected.

As thousands in Western Sudan continue to be forced from their homes, raped and murdered, the world is again witnessing hate, indifference and apathy.

Wiesel, 77, shared his thoughts, concerns and compassion about the ongoing struggles in places such as Darfur, during his lecture, “Against Indifference: Reflections on ‘Never Again.'” Wiesel, born in Transylvania, was 15 years old when he and his family were deported to Auschwitz. His 1982 memoir, “Night,” was recently placed on Oprah’s Book Club.

“I cannot thank you enough for wanting to spend time with me, simply because of the topic,” Wiesel began his lecture, sponsored by Hillel at Stanford, the ASSU Speakers Bureau, the Jewish Students Association, and the Stanford chapter of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur.

Wiesel received several standing ovations — the first when he walked on the stage — as he touched on racism in America, politics of the Middle East, religious fanaticism, anti-Semitism and his perception of God.

Wiesel examined the earliest reference of the phrase “never again,” which he found in the Torah: God told Noah that He would “never again” destroy the world with water.

Wiesel, however, read that passage again, and realized that although God promised not to destroy the world again with water, perhaps He would destroy it with fire. Or, God may be silent as the inhabitants of earth bring about their own destruction.

Wiesel also recounted his first experience in the southern United States. It was the first time he felt shame in America.

“I saw racism as law. I felt shame — not for being a Jew. I felt shame for being white. I came to America filled with illusions,” Wiesel said. “Still, there are racists in our midst. There are over 65 racist groups in America.”

Racism, war and hate continue.

“Six years into this century, again and again, people are killing one another,” he said. “It is shameful that we allow this to continue. We could stop it because we are humans.”

“What is happening today? Never again? We have again,” he said.

Wiesel is also concerned with the developing hate in Iraq and Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Wiesel claimed, is the world’s No. 1 Holocaust denier, and his words should be taken seriously, just as Hitler’s words should have been. “It is enough to read ‘Mein Kampf’ and Hitler’s speeches. He predicted everything he wanted to do,” Wiesel said.

Hitler was able to exterminate nearly 6 million Jews because no one stopped him, Wiesel said.

Whether a Jew or not, people need to stand up and stop religious fanaticism, racism and anti-Semitism.

“We have absolutely no right to disregard another when the other is suffering,” Wiesel said. “If you stand by when someone else is being tortured, you are an accomplice,” he said. “We suffered and died because of indifference. This is the lesson. Never again.”

Some in attendance, such as San Jose resident Alicia Appleman-Jurman, have waited years to meet Wiesel. Appleman-Jurman is a Holocaust survivor and author of “Alicia: My Story.”

“I can relate to the way he identified himself with the suffering of the world,” Appleman-Jurman said moments after shaking Wiesel’s hand.

Wiesel’s words speak to all generations.

Ariel Platt, a sophomore at Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco, left the lecture with more than just an autographed copy of “Night.”

“His words confirm what I believe: To never stand idly by. You can’t just let things happen,” he said.