Buchenwald concentration camp, photo taken April 16, 1945, five days after liberation of the camp. Wiesel is in the second row from the bottom, seventh from the left, next to the bunk post.
The white letterhead in my hand seems new and fairly untouched, but the scribble handwriting of Elie Wiesel dates it back to June 14, 2002.
It took me a couple of hours to find it after so many years. On the top left side of the letterhead sheet there is the name and address of the Boston University including Elie Wiesel’s name as the university professor.
I close my eyes. A joyful yet strange feeling hugs my mind. April 23, 2002, Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. Hundreds of people including Jewish entrepreneurs and celebrities were waiting to see him…. and I was there, standing in a far corner waiting impatiently and excited to see someone I knew from the books and the words for so many years.
I had read his well-known book “The Night” in Farsi when I was a teenager, and I had followed anything I could find about him in the magazines and newspapers and books and I even wrote about him and his life during World War II in a concentration camp in an Iranian weekly magazine I was working at.
He got to the podium.
Fourteen years have passed from that night, but he is strong in my memory. I still remember his voice, soft and slow with a Romanian accent. I was standing far, couldn’t see his face well enough, but his words were sinking in. I was making notes; I was determined to write about him.
Later on that night I was rushing though the crowd to find him and talk to him. I got to see him face-to-face. His face; full of lines of hardship, his sad looking eyes seemed so innocent to me. I got to talk with him, him and me. And I got to take a picture with him; him and me. That was it.
I had met the hero of a story I had written seven years before. Less than a few weeks later, on May 3, 2002, the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles published my story of that particular encounter. A short while later Roy Weinstein , the president of university synagogue in Los Angeles, who had organized that event with Elie Wiesel contacted me. He handed me a letter he had sent to Elie Wiesel’s office along with a copy of the story of I wrote for the Jewish journal.
The letter reads: “I have enclosed an article from the Jewish journal of Los Angeles dealing with Mr. Wiesel’s April 23, 2002 appearance in Los Angeles. Please pass it to Mr. Wiesel as further evidence of the impact he continues to have on the lives of so many people…”
His impact on the lives of so many people. That is true. His words, his face, his act and his life are unforgettable to so many people who knew him. I open my eyes, and try to read what he talked about in the article that I wrote 14 years ago. The words shock me.
There is a bitter truth in his words from that night. A bitter yet deep truth that applies so profoundly to our world today. This new world of ours that has so brutally been affected by terrorism: ” Terrorism ” is the result of hatred. Hatred is like cancer, goes cell-to-cell, rib-to-rib and then people to people and generation to generation.
But at the end the soft spoken Elie is so optimistic, as always, he talks about hope, a hope that kept him fighting for 87 years: “hope, so we need to be hopeful and there is hope. Even in despair there is hope…”
The note he wrote in 2002 sending his regards to me is in my hand. I look at his scribble handwriting in blue ink. I feel a lump in my throat. Hope? Is there hope? Hope in despair? Maybe we should agree with him.
But I also want to tell him: Sorry, Elie Wiesel if the world failed you.
Mojdeh Sionit worked for 10 years at the print media of Ettela’at, Iran’s premier media conglomerate. She moved to the United States in 2001. She has been writing from time to time for American print media. Currently she lives in Los Angeles, is married and has 3 children.