Elie Wiesel (Sept. 30, 1928 – July 2, 2016)

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”

“Indifference is more dangerous than anger and hatred.”

On July 2, 2021, it will be five years since our colleague Professor Elie Wiesel passed away. Wiesel was world famous as a Nobel laureate, Holocaust survivor, human rights advocate, and author of one of the most influential memoirs that gave voice the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during WW II, among them a million and a half children. Elie Wiesel was one of the lucky ones who survived Auschwitz, one of the infamous death marches, and Buchenwald. Like other survivors, for the rest of his life he was haunted by guilt.

At Boston University, generations of students were privileged to learn from Professor Wiesel. Surprisingly perhaps, he rarely taught the Holocaust. Wiesel was Andrew Mellon Professor in the Humanities and he taught literature, because he believed that literature gives us insight into the human condition; because he believed that words speak louder than facts; because he believed that imagination is the antidote to indifference.

We were privileged to have Professor Wiesel as a colleague. At Boston University, his legacy lives on as a mandate. In 2005, when he gave his name to our Center for Jewish Studies, he left us with the expectation that we would carry on his mission to teach the humanities in a Jewish key; to foster love for the Jewish people and keep Jerusalem in our hearts; to speak out for human rights; to make sure our students were awake to the problems faced by their fellow human beings across the globe.

Those who knew him also knew there was a streak of Hasidic mischief lurking behind his eyes. He could always surprise you with a repartee. He had the presence of a true conversationist. To be with Elie elevated you in unexpected ways. This was true even when he disagreed with you. And he certainly disagreed with me on occasion! Nevertheless, I always walked away with the sense that I had been in the presence of a very special human being. It was truly a privilege to know him. May his memory be for a blessing!

Michael Zank, PhD

Professor of Religion, Jewish, and Medieval Studies

Director, The Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies