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The Illinois Holocaust Museum Tribute – Remembering Elie Wiesel

By Barbara Keer

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In a world that continues to be incomprehensible, knowing that Elie Wiesel was there, fighting against evil and bringing hope, was reassuring.  With his passing, the world is a little darker.  On Thursday, July 14, a tribute to Wiesel drew huge crowds.  People all over the world have been touched and influenced by his writing and his speaking.  It was especially appropriate that he be honored at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, as he was one of the speakers on the day of the museum’s grand opening. I wrote about that day.


A large crowd attended

On this night, watching a video of his speech that day, I was moved so differently.  At the event, itself, I was far away and cold.  The video brought him to life- his words, his voice.  There was power and beauty and reassurance.  I also found it fascinating that immediately following the video, a passage from his book, “Night” was read by Rives Collins, (story teller and Associate Professor at Northwestern School of Communication) and I heard his words, but in a different voice.  I remembered reading those words and being powerfully aware of a different world.The eight words that changed his life were “men to the left and women to the right”- horrible.


Rives Collins reading a passage from "Night"

Wiesel was an author, witness, teacher and messenger to the world. “Elie Wiesel fought hatred, prejudice and indifference with a sense of urgency, and moral and intellectual leadership,” said Museum CEO Susan Abrams. “He galvanized Survivors to speak out, and compelled world leaders to take action.” Holocaust survivor and Museum President Fritzie Fritzshall shared her personal experience of having been told not to speak of the horrors of the Holocaust which was difficult and unrealistic but after Wiesel began telling his stories, it lead the way for other survivors to tell their stories, as well.


Susan Abrams and Fritzie Fritzshall, Holocaust Survivor and Museum President

This tribute was remarkable, having been put together so quickly by a highly professional staff, it was a quality performance, not sentimental, but authentic and meaningful. 

A large crowd attended


Kristin Gottschalk, Iroquois Community School teacher, shared the impact of “Night” on her students and their understanding of the Holocaust. Leo Melamed, Weisel’s longtime friend and Chairman Emeritus of CME Group, read a poem that reflects his thoughts on Weisel’s passing in English and then in Yiddish- “An Oak Tree Falls”.  One teacher read a letter that had been written to Wiesel last year by an eighth grade student that told how much reading his work had meant to the student. 

Leo Malamed

A letter was read, written by a friend of Wiesel who had been present when the Nobel Peace Prize had been presented.  And then it was time to bring this evening of healing to a close.  Members of the Holocaust Survivors group read a quotation each from Elie Wiesel and then lit a candle- six candles for the six million.


Eve Perkal, Holocaust Survivor andMuseum President Aaron Elster

My take away was that all who attended were grateful for all the Elie Wiesel did for his people, that he will be missed but that we will hold to the gifts he gave us and pass them forward to new generations.  I found this evening healing, meaningful and hopeful.


More information on the Illinois Holocaust Museum




Photo credit: Ron Gould Studios.



Published on Jul 18, 2016

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