Monday, January 18, 2010

From my hero, Elie Wiesel

The Jews who lived in the ghettos under the Nazi occupation 
showed their independence by leading an organized clandestine life.  
The teacher who taught the starving children was a free man. 
The nurse who secretly cared for the wounded, the ill and the dying was a free woman. 
The rabbi who prayed, 
the disciple who studied, 
the father who gave his bread to his children, 
the children who risked their lives by leaving the ghetto at night 
in order to bring back to their parents a piece of bread 
or a few potatoes, 
the man who consoled his orphaned friend, 
the orphan who wept with a stranger for a stranger—
these were human beings filled with an unquenchable thirst for freedom and dignity. 
The young people who dreamed of armed insurrection, 
the lovers who, a moment before they were separated, 
talked about their bright future together, 
the insane who wrote poems, 
the chroniclers who wrote down the day's events 
by the light of their flickering candles—
all of them were free in the noblest sense of the word, 
though their prison walls seemed impassable 
and their executioners invincible.

It was the same even in the death camps.

Defeated and downcast, 
overcome by fatigue and anguish, 
tormented and tortured day after day, 
hour after hour, 
even in their sleep, 
condemned to a slow but certain death, 
the prisoners nevertheless managed 
to carve out a patch of freedom for themselves. 
Every memory became a protest against the system; 
every smile was a call to resist; 
every human act turned into a struggle 
against the torturer's philosophy.

... the executioner did not always triumph. 
Among his victims were some who placed freedom 
above what constituted their lives. 
Some managed to escape 
and alert the public in the free world. 
Others organized a solidarity movement within the inferno itself. 
One companion of mine in the camps 
gave the man next to him a spoonful of soup every day at work. 
Another would try to amuse us with stories. 
Yet another would urge us not to forget our names—
one way, among many other, of saying "no" to the enemy, 
of showing that we were free, freer than the enemy.

Even in a climate of oppression, 
men are capable of inventing their own freedom,
of creating their own ideal of sovereignty
What if they are a minority? 
Even if only one free individual is left, 
he is proof that the dictator is powerless against freedom.
But a free man is never alone; the dictator is alone. 
The free man is the one who, even in prison, 
gives to the other prisoners 
their thirst for, their memory of, freedom.

-"What Really Makes Us Free"


  1. As do I, Nel. I'm starting a unit on WWII in a couple of weeks in my 10th grade American History class. I may use this during my session on the Holocaust...

  2. Oh wow, Erica! That's awesome. Let me know how it goes.