Elie Wiesel wrote Night, you could say, for an evening such as Sunday night's marathon reading of his Holocaust era memoir at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: To Remember. He knew that the history in concentration camps--Auschwitz was just one of many-- was so bad, so bleak, so dark, so beyond belief, he had to try to make testimony for generations to come. Moreover, perhaps he knew there would always be those who, out of the racism and hate that spawned the Holocaust and the systematic and specific murder of the Jewish people in the first place, would want to deny such a thing actually happened. The Trump administration's tepid acknowledgment of Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 is a variation on this theme, never mentioning the targeting of Jews for mass annihilation. That controversy hung in the air, relieved only by poetry.
Elie Wiesel died this past year, and hearing readers from Dr. Ruth Westheimer to Sheila Nevins to Tovah Feldshuh to Joel Grey to Andre Aciman whose new book Enigma Variations has just come out, was a respectful way to honor this Nobel Prize winning survivor and his words, in tandem with Holocaust remembrance citywide. Eliot Spitzer was there too. He read a line that resonated with the irony of current events: "I have faith in Hitler. He alone has kept his promises."
Others who read at the event, co-produced by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, included refugees from the genocide in Rwanda: Consolee Nishimwe, Jacqueline Murekatete, and Eugenie Mukeshimana, all incensed by the freeze on Muslims and Trump's anti-immigration policies. At international airports across America, detainees were engaged in prayers. Some were sent back on the next plane. Mukeshimana, who arrived just after 9/11, told me, it took two years for her visa to be approved. Now the founder and executive director of Genocide Support Network, she wanted Trump to know the impact of the United States on the rest of the world. Maybe he would forget his campaign promises. As we talked, the next reader went on to speak in Elie Wiesel's father's voice, "It's over. God is no longer with us. Where is God's mercy?"
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.