Elie Wiesel Inspires Listeners with Insightful, Fresh Perspective on September 11

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Matthew Christ

“How does one memorialize and remember Sept. 11?” inquired Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel from the podium of Mead Chapel. “Remember the names, no speeches — just remember the names.”
For the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy, Middlebury College was fortunate to welcome one of the world’s most preeminent experts on human suffering and tragedy, Elie Wiesel. A survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Wiesel has spent his life spreading a message of peace through his literature, teachings and lectures.
The morning of Sept. 11 found Wiesel commuting from Connecticut back to his home in New York. By 8:50 a.m., Wiesel was hearing the early reports from Ground Zero over the radio in a taxi. Upon returning home, Wiesel found himself glued to the television, watching the images that are now engrained in all of our psyches. As he watched the early reports, the phone rang; it was a friend who was a fellow Holocaust survivor. His friend felt that the events of Sept. 11 had to be kept in perspective — often 10,000 people were killed at Auschwitz in a single night. Wiesel was furious.
“He had no right to compare. It is diminishing to the victims. Every tragedy is unique, all of the sufferings are part of the collective history of society.” Wiesel, who has endured much personal pain and suffering, remains unhardened to the suffering of others.
Throughout his speech, Wiesel employed his many life lessons and experiences in an attempt to bring a sense of closure and solace to the tragedies of a year ago. Unfortunately, even Wiesel was left asking questions. What moved 19 men to be suicide killers? How did they slip through our intricate defense system? Why did they not leave an explanation? How did these means justify an end? He could pose the questions but he could not give the answers.
Wiesel also implored the audience not to draw conclusions between Islam and the acts of the terrorists: “Never pass collective judgments. Children of killers are not killers.”
For Wiesel, New York, America and the world were all changed on Sept. 11. It was a day when we all learned that we are “not as invulnerable as we thought we were. Everything else has happened far away.”
For Wiesel, “life is not made up of years but rather moments — they justify the experience.” The moment of response is what he has chosen to take from Sept. 11. The moment when blood banks were turning people away, when people walked around Ground Zero offering everything from water to compassion. He was also glad that “heroes are no longer rap singers or movie stars but policemen and firemen.”
Although Wiesel was able to find the hope within the tragedy, he also touched on pressing issues of security and fear. He mentioned his growing fear of a new breed of terrorist whose ends are justified by any means. Wiesel, a scholar of terrorism, remembers a time when terrorists were revolutionaries with romantic ideals — ready to die for their beliefs but not to take innocent lives. He also ominously stated that “Sept. 11 is not the end of the process, just the beginning.”
Wiesel informed the large audience of his disgust at the terrorists evoking God’s name in their devastating actions: “God is not a killer. God is not an accomplice.”
He also stressed the value of education because it fights terrorists. He noted that knowledge and intolerance do not go together.
At the conclusion of the speech, President John McCardell spoke for the entire audience in thanking Wiesel for his “force, compassion and conviction.” The crowd overwhelmingly agreed with McCardell’s sentiments. A Shelburne resident, Eva Pahnke found the speech “absolutely fabulous. I have wanted to see him for years and am so glad he came to Middlebury. The entire speech was very impressive.” As she discussed her favorite parts of his lecture tears swelled up in her eyes.
A similar sentiment was shared by students. Taylor Davis ’05 found Weisel’s words “comforting and thought provoking. I could not have imagined a better Sept. 11 speaker — his words were able to bring some form of closure.”
Throughout the past year, America has been saturated with texts and images about Sept. 11. To hear a fresh perspective on the tragedy of a year ago is astounding.The College, anticipating a large crowd for the lecture, installed large speakers outside of Mead Chapel to make the speech audible to those unable to fit in the chapel. The lecture was also transmitted via live-feed to McCullough. The combination of beautiful weather and eloquent words brought hundreds of students and local residents to the lawn outside of Mead Chapel. In a scene much like the response to the Sept. 11 tragedy, the entire community was brought together to acheive a greater goal: healing.

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Elie Wiesel Inspires Listeners with Insightful, Fresh Perspective on September 11