(Host) Nobel Peace Prize winner, author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel spoke to students and members of the public at Middlebury College Tuesday afternoon. On the eve of the anniversary of September 11, Wiesel said his message was one of compassion and respect for human dignity.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports.
(Zind) When he walked into the hall, the response to the sight of Wiesel’s small frame and tousled hair was immediate and enthusiastic.
An overflow crowd packed a steamy Mead Chapel on the Middlebury College campus. Large fans rumbled under Wiesel’s voice as he spoke about the terrorist attacks. Wiesel said the events of last September 11 taught America it was vulnerable. But he said there were positive lessons as well. He asked the audience to remember not just the attacks but how people responded to them. He described what he saw in New York City.
(Wiesel) “Everybody felt that they had to do something for the other [person]. There were lines, lines, long, long lines to give blood. People came with bottles of water, or simply came to offer compassion.”
(Zind) Wiesel delivered a chilling assessment of modern terrorists as people who have no agenda beyond that of taking lives. Referring to the men who hijacked the four airliners one year ago Wiesel said, Woe to our generation, if it has produced only nineteen such people. But Wiesel said it’s important to remember their numbers are small and the terrorists don’t represent an entire religion or nation.
(Wiesel) “The nineteen terrorists were Muslims and fifteen from Saudi Arabia. I implore you not to draw any conclusion from that fact. What I have learned from my life is never to pass collective judgements on any community, religious or political or social or ethnic. Never. Only the guilty are guilty. Children of killers are not killers, but children.”
(Zind) Wiesel steered clear of politics and didn’t mention U.S. military action in Afghanistan. During a brief question and answer period a student asked if he thought the U.S. response to terrorism had caused other people to suffer, Wiesel answered simply that he hoped not.
(Wiesel) “The memory of suffering should not be used to create more suffering. The memory of suffering should only be evoked only to limit the suffering of the world.”
(Zind) Wiesel has witnessed some of the greatest human tragedies of the past century. He spoke of being sent to a French orphanage after he was liberated from the Nazi camp where his parents died. Years later, he fought against apartheid in South Africa and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Wiesel says he believes enemies are not vanquished by violence but by ideas.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Middlebury.