A giant has fallen. Elie Wiesel’s life was so momentous that his death disrupted the conscience of humanity. We are the lesser for it. His life connected the dead to the living. He gave voice to those who could not speak. He was the repository for memories that ceased to exist and were to be exorcised from the record of history. His life’s work gave flesh and bones to those whose existence was to be incinerated in an anonymous death devoid of meaning.
Professor Leo Eitinger, who conducted seminal studies of the Holocaust, once told me that the obligation of the survivor was to bear witness. In the Warsaw ghetto, Jewish-Polish historian Emanuel Ringelblum established a secret organization to record for posterity the suffering of the Jewish people under the Nazi occupation. Ringelblum and his colleagues buried thousands of documents in milk cans and tin boxes so that the voices and culture of a people condemned to extermination would not be eradicated. Their efforts triumphed over the Nazis’ attempts to silence them. Ringelblum’s history lives on.
For the People of the Book, the written record, the memory, and the voice must be preserved. In Andre Schwarz-Bart’s, The Last of the Just, a rabbi facing a pogrom screams at his assailants, you may burn us, but you may not burn our books.
The anonymity of death robs people of their humanity. It is easier to identify with the death of a single child whose face we see, whose loss elicits our compassion, than those turned into ash or interred in a mass grave. It is difficult to identify with an abstraction. In Night, probably his most widely read book, Elie Wiesel gave human form to the victims of the Holocaust. He became the chronicler of history’s greatest evil.
President Barack Obama called Wiesel “the conscience of the world.”
But to those devoid of conscience, Holocaust deniers, anti-Semites, and self-hating Jews, Wiesel’s death was an occasion to spew hatred and to stomp on his grave before he was buried.
Among those chomping at the bit to desecrate Wiesel’s memory was professional anti-Zionist Max Blumenthal whose Mondoweiss blog is so obsessed with criticizing both Israel and Jews that it has become a popular reference point for neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Blumenthal might easily be dismissed as another crank with a blog, except that he is the son of Hillary Clinton’s adviser, Sidney Blumenthal. The father has been a promoter of Max’s anti-Israel screed, Goliath, a book that transforms Israelis into Nazis and Palestinians into the oppressed Jews of Europe between the wars. Sidney Blumenthal sent Hillary Clinton copies of Max’s writings that are so virulent in their criticism of the Jewish community’s support of Israel that they have been labeled anti-Semitic.
As a newly surfaced series of Hillary Clinton’s emails show, she was enthusiastic about the Jew who shamelessly compared the Israel Defense Forces to Hitler’s SS. She was so excited about Max Blumenthal’s screeds that she wrote to his father, “Your Max is a mitzvah.”
Lest one think that Sidney Blumenthal’s endorsement of his son’s work is nothing more than paternal pride, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, one of the most influential rabbis of our time, writes in the New York Observer that Sidney Blumenthal’s emails contain not a single pro-Israel piece of advice to the woman who wants to be the next president and thinks the obsessively anti-Zionist son is “a mitzvah.”
Alan Dershowitz — a long-time supporter of the Clintons — warned them that their association with the extremist Max Blumenthal makes her candidacy unacceptable to the American electorate, and they should part company with him.
Wiesel not only witnessed for the memory of Holocaust victims but also was a voice for social justice. Contrary to the characterizations of those like Max Blumenthal who scorn him, Wiesel strongly condemned the injustice of Apartheid. He spoke truth to power. He was critical of President Ronald Reagan’s partaking in a ceremony at the Bitburg cemetery where Nazi war criminals, who had murdered Allied prisoners of war, were buried. He was a strong and vocal critic of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Part of the continuing lesson of Wiesel’s life is that those who remain silent are not neutral. Their silence simply empowers the oppressor. People who find bigotry odious in all its forms should remind Hillary Clinton that standing with the man who hated Elie Wiesel enough to desecrate his memory is not a mitzvah. It is a shanda — a disgrace.