Elie Wiesel, who died last Saturday, was best known for his efforts to ensure that the Holocaust would not be forgotten. But even more, writes Natan Sharansky, he wanted to be remembered for fighting on behalf of Soviet Jewry:
Wiesel first traveled to the Soviet Union in 1965 . . . on a mission to meet with Jews there, and was shocked by what he saw. Those with whom he spoke were too afraid to recount Soviet persecution, terrified of reprisals from the regime, but their eyes implored him to tell the world about their plight. . . . “For the second time in a single generation, we [in the West] are committing the error of silence,” Wiesel warned—a phenomenon even more troubling to him than the voiceless suffering of Soviet Jews themselves. . . .
Elie Wiesel’s humanism, his active concern for the voiceless, hardly stopped with his fellow Jews. He spoke out against massacres in Bosnia, Cambodia, and Sudan, against apartheid in South Africa, and against the burning of black churches in the United States. He became, as others have said, the conscience of the world. Yet he never gave up or sacrificed even a bit of his concern for the Jewish people. He did not feel he had to give up his Jewish loyalty or national pride to be a better spokesman for others. To the contrary: it was the tragedy of his people that generated his concern for the world—a world he felt God had abandoned—and it was his belief in universal ideas that helped him ultimately to reconcile with his Jewish God.