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The Wiesel Thread


Reply-To: H-NET List for History of the Holocaust <H-HOLOCAUST@H-NET.MSU.EDU>
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Author: Milton Goldin

June 17, 1999

Alan Jacobs suggests that subscribers go public how they feel about Eli Wiesel, and Ursula Duba asks, What's wrong with earning money from Holocaust remembrance activities? Fair enough that they should ask others to step forth. But I will add a caveat. It is misleading, I think, to attack an individual for their views without being able to state what views the individual expresses, to the individual's satisfaction. Chances are slim that Wiesel will respond to queries from this list, so the next best thing is using what he has said and written to understand him. I can hardly believe that his own views are not to his satisfaction.

What I find depressing is his tendency to say one thing in one place, but to avoid saying the same thing in another place. I have heard him, in person, speak to a Jewish audience and ask, "Do you think they envy us?" ("They" are Gentiles, and the remark brought down the house. I also heard him say something similar during a broadcast from a Jewish house of worship, in New York.) Why has he never said this or something similar at a televised Holocaust Museum function? I watched a TV discussion he had with Cardinal O'Connor. Suffering Judaism and Repentant Catholicism faced each other across a coffee table. Both men looked saddened, but neither said anything about envy. By the end of the telecast, I had the uneasy feeling that they might fall into each other's arms as they debated forgiveness and lamented mortal sin.

On the subject of money, if someone is willing to pay Wiesel a huge amount of money to hear what Wiesel thinks, I believe that to be a matter between the donor and Wiesel. But Judaism does not admit of saints. (Recognition for the performance of mitzvoth is thought to be enough.) My question is this: Why should someone well-paid to express his views be elevated above the rest of humanity to prove that it is right and reasonable for him to be well-paid to express his views? Wiesel tells us that only a survivor understands what the Holocaust was about, and that the rest of us do not have that capability. Using the same logic, neither a survivor nor anyone too young to have derved as a soldier can understand what the fighting was like during World War II.

So how do you explain Christopher Browning and John Keegan? The first is not even Jewish, let alone a survivor, and the second writes extraordinarily vivid accounts of World War II actions, albeit he was never at any of them.

Finally, I have always been very suspicious of symbols. The horror caused by Hitler, the symbol of Aryan Superiority, and Stalin, the symbol of Workers of the World, cannot be measured. The Jews have not been without those who wanted to serve as symbols and put their co-religionists in peril. Better to form your own judgements about what is happening around you or what did happen around those who preceded you, and go on from those points.


Milton Goldin
National Coalition of Independent Scholars


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