Thursday, September 14, 2006

Elie Wiesel at the U.N. on Genocide

WASHINGTON, Sept 14 (Reuters) - For Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Darfur is the "capital of human suffering" and he is perplexed why world leaders are standing by, as they did in Rwanda, while genocide took place.

Outraged by Sudan's refusal to accept a U.N. force to end the violence in Darfur, Wiesel was appealing to the United Nations on Thursday, along with actor George Clooney.

"I will be pushing for stopping the murder, the humiliation, the starvation of the victims in Darfur," said Wiesel in an interview before addressing the Security Council.

"I call Darfur the capital of human suffering. To ignore it would be an insult to our collective conscience," he added.

Tens of thousands have been killed and 2.5 million people forced from their homes in 3 1/2 years of fighting in Sudan's remote western area of Darfur. Humanitarian workers have also come under greater attack in recent months.

Last month, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution for a 20,000-member force to take over from struggling African Union peacekeepers when their mandate expires in two weeks.

Despite world pressure, Sudan is balking at the idea of a U.N. force and says the African Union has no authority to transfer its mission to the United Nations.

Wiesel said he would push the council to intervene.

He drew parallels to Rwanda's 1994 genocide, when the world intervened too late.

"Rwanda is always on my mind when I speak of Darfur. We could have saved 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children there but we didn't. Now, those who didn't will bear the responsibility for that for years and years and generations to come," he added.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was in charge of U.N. peacekeeping operations at that time, has acknowledged the United Nations failed Rwanda during the genocide.

The United States, which classified Darfur's conflict as genocide two years ago, hopes Sudan will at the last minute concede to a U.N. force and has said repeatedly that U.N. forces will not "shoot their way" into Darfur.

But Wiesel said whether Sudan agreed or not, there must be an international force in Darfur. If the AU pulled out, the security vacuum would result in slaughter, he said.

For Wiesel, getting action on Darfur is a personal mission and he identifies closely with the victims.

The 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner was 15 years old when his family was deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz concentration camp. He lost parents and younger sister in the Holocaust.

"I am a Jew and I feel what victims feel. I felt that once upon a time," he said. "I felt abandoned and that is why I devote myself to all these causes.

"These people have no power. We have that power and we must use it. We will continue screaming."

Wiesel was born in Sighet (now Sighetu Marmaţiei), Maramureş, Romania, to Shlomo Wiesel and his wife Sarah, the daughter of Dodye Feig, a Hasid and farmer from a nearby village. Elie Wiesel had three sisters Hilda, Béa, and Tzipora. Shlomo was an Orthodox Jew of Hungarian descent, and a shopkeeper who ran his own grocery store. He was active and trusted within the community, and had spent a few months in jail for having helped Polish Jews who escaped to Hungary in the early years of the war. It was Shlomo who instilled a strong sense of humanism in his son, encouraging him to learn Modern Hebrew and to read literature, whereas his mother encouraged him to study Torah and Kabbalah. Wiesel has said his father represented reason, and his mother, faith (Fine 1982:4). He was the only son, though he had three sisters.

The town of Sighet became part of the German ally Hungary in 1940, and in 1944 the Hungarian authorities deported the Jewish community in Sighet to Auschwitz–Birkenau. While at Auschwitz the number A-7713 was tattooed into his left arm. Wiesel was separated from his mother and sister Tzipora, who are presumed to have been killed at Auschwitz. Wiesel and his father were sent to the attached work camp Buna-Werke, a subcamp of Auschwitz III Monowitz. He managed to remain with his father for a year as they were forced to work under appalling conditions and shuffled between concentration camps in the closing days of the war. On January 28, 1945, just a few weeks after the two were marched to Buchenwald and only months before the camp was liberated by the American Third Army, Wiesel's father died of dysentery, starvation, and exhaustion, after being beaten by a guard. The last word his father spoke was "Eliezer," his son's name.

After the war
I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes were open and I
was alone–terribly alone in a world without God and without man.
Wiesel, 'Night' (1958)
Translated by Stella Rodway
After the war, Wiesel was placed in a French orphanage, where he learned the French language and was reunited with his two older sisters, Hilda and Bea, who had also survived the war. In 1948, Wiesel began studying philosophy at the Sorbonne.

He taught Hebrew and worked as a choirmaster before becoming a professional journalist. As a journalist he wrote for Israeli and French newspapers, including Tsien in Kamf (in Yiddish) and the French newspaper, L'arche. However, for 11 years after the war, Wiesel refused to write about or discuss his experiences during the Holocaust. Like many survivors, Wiesel could not find the words to describe his experiences. However, a meeting with François Mauriac, the 1952 Nobel Laureate in Literature, who eventually became Wiesel's close friend, persuaded him to write about his Holocaust experiences.

"We Know aout suffering." Wiesel is standing in the foreground

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