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June 8, 2018 9:05 am

The Second Yahrzeit of Elie Wiesel: A Portrait of Love

avatar by Inna Rogatchi

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The late Professor Elie Wiesel speaking at The Algemeiner‘s 40th anniversary gala on April 22, 2013. Photo: Sarah Rogers / Algemeiner.

As we approach Elie Wiesel’s second yahrzeit, a gentle and special cloud of our own reflections and memories comes to us.

I always wondered: how did Elie have the strength to live after his ordeal, which he never fully overcame? A man who witnessed his mother’s murder in front of him, his young and helpless sister being literally thrown into the flames, his father’s excruciating death, the loss of his grandparents, his relatives, his friends; the crimes that he witnessed in the camps; the world of his people being devastated and destroyed — all this being lived through by a teenager.

In his books and in his deeds, Elie talked for all those who perished during the Holocaust and all those affected by it in so many ways. He spoke about it to us all. But how did he find the strength and ability to live again?

After the war, being just 16, he was tormented by spiritual, moral, and mental turmoil for years. For a good decade, he did not utter a word about it. He could not get married. His life was on hold in many senses of the word.

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The blessed breakthrough happened at his meeting with Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe also knew the pain caused by the Holocaust personally. He lost his younger brother DovBer to it, murdered by the vicious Ukrainian Nazi collaborators. The Rebbe took a personal interest in Elie and treated him very warmly. It was Rebbe Schneerson who helped convince Elie, against all odds, to get married and start a family at the age of 41. That was a milestone in Wiesel’s life.

Despite his early years of suffering, Elie became someone who was active and needed, and respected and much loved by so many. Some of those people were Soviet Jews, his brothers who would become known in history as Jews of Silence because of the term coined by Wiesel.

The first time that Wiesel went to Moscow in 1965, it was mutual love at first glance. One would never imagine that the usually melancholic Elie would be laughing so happily and dancing so energetically, but he always did among Jewish people in the Soviet Union.

Ultimately, it was his sense of mission and his many acts of helping others that transformed Elie Wiesel into a Nobel Peace laureate.

It was a great life, in which Elie was loved and cherished all around the globe. He was deeply respected not only by Jews, but also by so many others — and in this universalism, he also did an invaluable service to the Jewish people.

What was his key to so many different minds and hearts? I think that the twofold answer is his modesty and honesty. He knew so much, yet always had more and more questions. He wrote so well, yet kept his writings uniquely sincere.

Several years ago, my husband was commissioned to paint a painting for the Vilnius Public Jewish Library, the first Jewish library opened in Lithuania after World War II. That work’s name is “Yiddishe Zun” — Yiddish Son. And it is about Elie.

On his second yahrzeit, we are preparing a special new dedication plaque to be presented in Elie’s memory. May it forever shine brightly.

Dr. Inna Rogatchi is an author, scholar, filmmaker, political analyst, and public figure.

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