Elie Wiesel — RIP

To others I will leave the responsibility of eulogizing one of the late twentieth century’s most searing novelists, for I’m not as familiar with his work as I should be; but my first acquaintance with Elie Wiesel was in 1985 when he accepted the Congressional Gold Medal and, to the astonishment of the crowd, admonished Ronald Reagan for insisting on visiting a graveyard in which SS men lay buried. This became known as the Bitburg controversy, the first indication of how troubled Reagan’s term would be — and another reminder of the depths of his ignorance. In a quiet, firm, gently pleading voice (“That place, Mr. President, is not your place“), Wiesel reminded the president of his responsibility to bear witness for the sake of the survivors. Only Elie Wiesel could have done it (Reagan, chastened, recovered with an excellent speech at the cemetery, in which for once the actor looked floored by the script and setting).

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