by Amy Kurlansky
Last Sunday night was like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I was meeting a friend at Xavier University’s Cintas Center; she warned me to leave early, because I tend to run more than a little late most of the time. So I went ahead and took her advice and gave myself an extra 30 minutes to get to a 7:00 p.m. lecture. After spending 25 minutes just to get across Montgomery Road, I finally got to the Cintas Center, where I encountered hundreds of people still in their cars, trying to find parking, hundreds walking into the building and hundreds more inside trying to find their seats. I have been told that the Cintas Center seats 10,000 people. Rumor has it that 6,000 people sat in Cintas last Sunday night.
The excitement in the air and the massive crowd of people made it feel like we were going to a rock concert or a Final Four basketball game. Instead, we were headed for a lecture. But this was not just any lecture. The impetus for these thousands of people descending on the Cintas Center was Professor Elie Wiesel, presented by The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati and Xavier University.
As Sarah Weiss, executive director of The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education stated in her closing remarks, we are the last generation to hear about Holocaust survivors’ experiences directly from the witnesses to the Holocaust themselves. That fact struck me as very profound; I had never considered it before. She pointed out that while her grandparents were also Holocaust survivors, they did not talk about it. Many survivors did not—and still do not—talk about it. Instead of staying silent, Professor Wiesel chose to talk about his experience, first through his novel Night, and then through lectures like this one. Multiple generations and communities were represented in the audience, which only goes to show the incredible importance placed on hearing the message of survivors and sharing that message with our children.
|Stephanie Hodges, Aubrey Gibson, Elie Wiesel, Shena Jaffee and Brian Jaffee|
When I first heard that Professor Wiesel was coming to speak, I was slightly conflicted. I knew beyond a doubt that I wanted to be part of the audience that day, and I realized what an important opportunity it would be to actually hear and see him in person. Still, discussions on the Holocaust are very difficult for me to this day. I have difficulty hearing that anyone has suffered a huge tragedy, but I have an even stronger visceral “there but for the grace of G-d go I” relationship with the Holocaust. Had my great-grandparents not come to America in the early 1900s (due to a different kind of religious persecution of Jewish people), it really would have been me.
I think it is the senselessness of the millions of murders that bothers me more than anything. And I got the impression that that senselessness is also what drove and continues to drive Professor Wiesel to speak out against it. He has chosen to give a voice to one of the darkest periods in modern history. But, as he pointed out, it feels as if the world has not yet learned her lesson. The suffering of people, children in particular, is further evidence that we have a long way to go to create a world where we all can truly appreciate each other and live in peace.
The evening ended quite appropriately with questions from school children, submitted in advance to The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education. Two Xavier students asked Professor Wiesel the questions on the children’s behalf. Because making his message clear to the next generations is important to him, he entertained all of their questions.
Perhaps the note that struck me the hardest was Professor Wiesel’s point that hope can be both a blessing and a curse. As he pointed out, in Greek mythology, “hope” was what was left at the bottom of Pandora’s box when all the other curses had escaped. He said that false hope in the camps was a curse, delaying the inevitable and often creating a different type of cruelty as they lived to die another day. But hope is also a gift. He charged us all to be worthy of the gift of hope for a better future yet to come. Thank you for an amazing night of inspiration, Mr. Wiesel. I know that I will never, ever forget it.