It’s a word used loosely in our society. We use it to describe everything from bodybuilders to the condition of our hair to paper towels.
For me, though, when I think of the word strength, I think of you, Elie Wiesel.
Your story epitomizes the strength of the human spirit, and that’s what always comes to mind when I hear your name. You survived the horror of all horrors—Auschwitz, the Nazis, the loss of loved ones, disease, torture, and loss of dignity. You didn’t choose to survive this; you’ve said many times you weren’t a hero, weren’t even the likeliest to survive something like this. But you did, and that’s what shows us we are capable of so much more than we could ever know.
In a world where sometimes an “awful day” equates to a lost cell phone, we struggle to imagine the terrors you saw. In a world where Holocaust deniers cry out, where technology and culture tell us to move on to the next best thing and to forget the past, you stop us in our tracks.
Because your strength isn’t just about your survival of the impossible—it’s about your ability to share your story, every horrifying detail, with the world.
Writing Night certainly couldn’t have been easy, not after all of your years of silence. Writing is an emotional job, and you revisited feelings that threatened to rip you apart at the core. But you did it anyway because you knew someone needed to tell the truth. The world was better for it.
I’ve had the honor of teaching Night several times to teenagers. I’ve seen the terror in their eyes when they read about the babies in the fire, but I’ve also seen something else—a new kind of fire. A fire to change the world. A fire to combat injustice, to carry on the torch so other generations don’t forget. A fire of passion to do something meaningful. A fire of strength that they can overcome anything.
See, the thing that’s so admirable about you, Elie Wiesel, isn’t just that you showcase the strength of the human spirit or that you survived. It’s that you were able to go on from the tragedy and impact so many in such a positive way. You took crimes of hate and used them to spread messages of love and redemption for humanity. You poured yourself into making this world a better place, of reminding us life is about helping others. Life is about standing witness, something so many didn’t do for you.
I didn’t know you personally. I’m just a small town teacher who has taught your memoir and watched some of your speeches. When I heard the news of your passing, though, it struck me at the core. The world lost a man who possessed the strength to speak out for what is right. That’s a loss we will feel for years to come.
But, as you’ve taught us, when tragedy strikes, our duty is not to sit and get angry or focus on self-pity. Our job is to tread dutifully and confidently on with the sole purpose of making a change.
Because in a dark world full of hate, your words, your lessons have given us the strength to face it, to change it, and to love it. We will go on without you, not because we want to, but because you’ve reminded us we are capable of so much more than we know.We will never forget, Elie Wiesel. We will never forget the tragedy that occurs when human dignity is lost. We will never forget the danger of thinking a nation is incapable of atrocity. We will never forget what happens when we become indifferent. We will never forget your words, your stories. We will never forget we are capable of so much more than we could ever think.
Lindsay Detwiler is a high school English teacher and a contemporary romance author. She has published three novels, including Then Comes Love, Without You, and Voice of Innocence. She lives in her hometown with her junior high sweetheart Chad, her five cats, and her mastiff named Henry. You can find out more about Lindsay on her website, www.lindsaydetwiler.com.