Elie Wiesel’s death prompts outpouring of tributes

President Barack Obama listens to Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel during a visit to the former Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp near the eastern German city of Weimar on June 5, 2009. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

(RNS) Elie Wiesel’s death is inspiring an outpouring of grief and gratitude from leaders in the religious and political worlds, and ordinary people alike. As a Jew, writer and philosopher who lost his family and nearly his own life in the Holocaust, Wiesel’s death resonated particularly among Jews around the world, and in Israel, a nation he vigorously defended.

But his life’s work to combat bigotry and hate reached far beyond his own people. The Nobel Committee awarded him its Peace Prize in 1986, and President Obama called him “the moral conscience of the world.” Here are the president’s and others’ sentiments on the loss of Wiesel, who died on Saturday (July 2). He was 87.

Some statements have been shortened.

President Obama: 

“Elie was not just the world’s most prominent Holocaust survivor, he was a living memorial. After we walked together among the barbed wire and guard towers of Buchenwald where he was held as a teenager and where his father perished, Elie spoke words I’ve never forgotten — ‘Memory has become a sacred duty of all people of goodwill.’ Upholding that sacred duty was the purpose of Elie’s life. Along with his beloved wife Marion and the foundation that bears his name, he raised his voice, not just against anti-Semitism, but against hatred, bigotry and intolerance in all its forms.”

Former Israeli President Shimon Peres:

“Wiesel left his mark on humanity through preserving and upholding the legacy of the Holocaust and delivering a message of peace and respect between people worldwide. He endured the most serious atrocities of mankind — survived them and dedicated his life to conveying the message of ‘Never Again.’ I had the honor and privilege to personally thank him for his numerous years of work and for saving the world from apathy when I gave him the Presidential Medal on behalf of the State of Israel. May his memory be a blessing to us all.”

Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

“Elie shouldered the blessing and the burden of survival. In words and deeds, he bore witness and built a monument to memory to teach the living and generations to come the perils of human indifference. As he often said, one person of integrity can make a difference. For so many, he was that difference — including at the dedication of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993 when he urged me to stop the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia; at the White House Millennium Lecture Hillary invited him to give; and in all his wonderful books and lectures.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism:

“He taught us about the magnitude and the intensity of that evil. Although his writing was inescapably rooted in his own horrific experiences, he never allowed that darkness to overcome him. His writing, storytelling and speaking were all full of beauty, energy and life. He lived to teach us how to live. We will strive to honor his memory every day.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center Dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean:

“Elie Wiesel was the voice of the Holocaust for tens of millions of people around the world. His stories about his horrific experiences as a child during the Shoah and his struggle to find meaning and hope after the Nazi Holocaust touched the lives of people everywhere. He was also an early champion of Soviet Jewry, helping to arouse the consciousness of American Jewry to rise in protest over the treatment of 3 million Jews who were on the verge of suffering a cultural genocide. His Jewish moral voice will be sorely missed.”


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

“The state of Israel and the Jewish people express sorrow over the death of Elie Wiesel. Elie, a master of words, gave expression to the victory of the human spirit over cruelty and evil with his unusual personality and captivating stories. In the darkness of the Holocaust when our brothers and sisters perished — the six million — Elie Wiesel served as a ray of light and an example of humanity that believes in the goodness of man.”

The Rev. John T. Pawlikowski, director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at Catholic Theological Union:

“On occasion, Wiesel would speak of the necessity of madness. For him, madness was not insanity. It was rather the willingness, often in the face of incredible odds, to stand up for human dignity no matter what one’s national identity, racial heritage or sexual orientation might be.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan:

“We mourn Elie Wiesel’s passing with profound gratitude for his life. Professor Wiesel gave the voiceless not only a voice, but a lasting influence on the world. He made it his life’s work to ensure the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten or repeated. This will forever be his legacy.”

French President Francois Hollande:

“This universal man had a special relationship with France, where he studied after the war, where he published the first edition of ‘The Night’ thanks to Jerome Lindon, where he created the Universal Academy of Cultures in 1992. France honors the memory of a grand humanist, tireless defender of peace.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign:

“After surviving the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel committed his life to stopping hate, violence and discrimination. He lent his powerful voice to the struggles of countless people across the globe, and advocated for all those oppressed by discrimination and targeted for violence. Today, we mourn the loss of a hero whose commitment to justice, equality and love above all has set an example for us all to follow.”

Former President George W. Bush:

“I am grateful for his insight on the value of human life and for his generous spirit and big heart. He was an example of a graceful life, and that example will influence millions for generations to come.”

Michael Zank, director of Boston University’s Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies:

“Boston University is losing an iconic teacher who brought an incredible intensity to every encounter with students and colleagues. It was a privilege to know and work with him.”

Marvin D. Nathan, Anti-Defamation League national chair, and Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO:

“Elie Wiesel was a voice of conscience for the voiceless victims of the Holocaust and for all victims of genocide. In his writings, he eloquently bore witness to the dehumanizing acts of anti-Semitism and hatred that came about during Hitler’s reign in Germany and that led to the death of six million Jews and millions of others in the Holocaust. His written works about the Nazi genocide were unforgettable, but his passion in speaking out repeatedly against anti-Semitism and in defense of the Jewish state as a home for dispossessed Jews around the world made him one of the great Jewish voices of conscience for his generation.”

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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