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Now relax later. Hey, podcast listeners, some of you may know that Oprah began having conversations about the deeper meaning of life in the world around us, even in the early days of the Oprah show.
When you look inward, then you can begin to create another kind of power because we know you love a super soul style discussion.
I went, oh, we opened up the vault of the Oprah Winfrey Show to handpick episodes that will enhance the Super Soul podcast library.
Every experience in our lives is to teach us to learn to love.
Please enjoy this past episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show on Super Cell Conversations. I've traveled to New York City today to meet a most extraordinary man, I'm sitting in the Manhattan apartment of Elie Wiesel.
He's an author, he's a scholar, Holocaust survivor. He witnessed unspeakable horrors during World War Two as six million Jews were wiped off the face of this earth, including his own family.
In a recent survey, it was reported that 22 percent of Americans doubt that there had ever been a Holocaust. This staggering number is frightening. Here is a passage from Night, his chilling memoir of his life in a concentration camp.
"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath the silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever, those moments which murdered my God and turned my dreams to dust, never. I read your book night, and I think I will never be the same again."
I believe that every human being should read it to to somehow connect and experience what the world stood by and indifference and allowed to happen. So I'm very pleased to be able to talk to you.
Did you think you were going to die?
Many times in those places and in those times? We live in death, not in life. No one was alive. We all lived in a kingdom that was a kingdom of death before that, but we didn't know it. Why do you think you survived by accident? By accident? I wouldn't say a miracle. I don't believe in that. You don't? Because I would say that if God performed a miracle for me, life for me, there were people there who were better than I saintly were there that I have known some of the why me now?
It was an accident by chance. I was in someplace, not in another. Perhaps, maybe so you could be alive to tell the story. Now, that came much later. In truth, that idea that I had, the idea that we all had, all those who went through the death camps, that if I survive, I will have to tell the tale. But it could have been anyone else. It is. I don't know.
It's it's 50 years later, but still and I've read a lot of things in history, but night is the most chilling. I mean, most chilling I've ever experienced.
It is almost impossible to conceive of such inhumanity to man.
It's almost impossible to conceive that that was why it happened to us. We couldn't believe it if anyone had told us.
I can't believe it when I read it. I can't believe it. I mean, I believe it. It's just so hard to conceive.
Why should you believe it? Why should you imagine it? How could you imagine it? Because you can't even imagine. I said once and I repeated it was easier for a person inside Auschwitz to imagine himself or herself than for a person like you to imagine yourself inside Auschwitz. You never will know. One who wasn't there will never know what it meant being there.
From what I read inside, it's worse than you can imagine hell to be, because if you were to imagine hell and whatever the devil, whatever you perceive the devil to be in the flames and what preachers talk about the fiery furnace, it's worse than hell because hell meant disorder.
And there was order inside that kingdom, the kingdom of Auschwitz. There was order when we arrived. We saw that it was a society like ours with its own rulers, slaves, language, philosophy, theology. We had the feeling that another creation existed parallel to God. And in that creation, people did what they were supposed to do. Some people came there to die, others came there to kill. And day after day we saw people killing and being killed and we slept with them.
We slept with those who were already on the other side. You slept with the corpses? Of course we did. All the next day, we realized that they were corpses. And at one point, Primo Levi, who was a very great writer, they thought he and I spoke about it, that maybe we to were corpses. I want to go back to the time when you were living in the village with your family, when you thought all was well before you were put on the train to Auschwitz.
We thought that when the deportation will come, it will mean simply that we will be taken inside Hungary. No one in the world has told us has warned us that there is a place called Auschwitz. When we arrived in Auschwitz May 1944, three weeks before D-Day, we didn't know what it meant. If I'm angry at times, profoundly angry, it is because we could have been saved. The largest community still alive in Europe. Hungarian Jewish community could have been saved, if not in its totality, at least it is great part because the Russians were 20 kilometers away from us.
And we saw at night the artillery exchange. We saw the fire. We were surrounded by mountains. There were maybe two Germans in our city, maybe 50 Hungarian soldiers, gendarmes guarding the ghetto. There were Christian women and men who offered hospitality to us. We had a servant, marvelous woman called Maria, and she had a hut in the mountains and she sneaked into the ghetto and she pleaded with us, come. She said, come and stay with us.
We could have gone and stayed with her and survived. But we didn't know and when you say where you mean your father, I mean the entire city. Yeah, well, fifteen thousand Jews in that city and we did.
But Maria came specifically to your family and said, come correct. But there were other mothers who went to other places. We'd know about it.
So what did you think when you were taken from Segert and then people were really marched out of the town? What did where did you think you were going?
That they would go inside Hungary into a labor camp and wait for the end of the war? We were told that that would happen and we believed it would happen. Once you were put on the trains, it became a home. The ability to adjust its extraordinary people left their homes, went into other homes, smaller ones in the ghetto, and that became all in the train, became home. And actually, deep down, I had hope that it would crisscross Europe for days and nights, for months until the end of the war and be an adventure or at least stay there.
It was a certain security in that in the train that began because all the people I knew were there and whole family. How long were you there? Some three and a half days with just the clothes on your back and the knapsack.
And half of it was full filled with books, the other half with the clothes.
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When you arrived in Auschwitz, can you take us back to that time that night? There are moments that I have not written about yet. Night that you read is 140 on the 50 pages. The first manuscript was 864. There are certain things I cannot say. What can you share with us? I could say that I had the feeling I was a nightmare. I was sleeping. I was sleepwalking.
Yes. You say in night that there was a moment where you pinched yourself to say, am I alive for three days and three nights? Really? I felt that I was dreaming. I had a nightmare. Not only that the whole world had a nightmare. The God's creation went through a nightmare.
When you walked in, they split people up to the left and to the right. And that was the last time you saw your mother and your sister?
Yeah. The Germans and their dogs howling, shouting, barking, and then we reach the place we called the lamp. There was an elegant SS officer like 14, 15, 50, 50. Later, we found out his name, Mengele, famous, infamous Mengele. And he simply beat his battle. He would say right or left, right meant death. I left. And I was with my father and my father at one point said, why didn't you go with mother?
Maybe that's better. We didn't know and I have seen done something which helped me to the end of my life that there were children. And what they have done, they I mean, the enemy, they had dug pits. And since there was no room anymore in the gas chambers, they would throw those children in the flames. And I. That we have seen that and not gone crazy. That's a miracle. For a while, I thought maybe I was still a prisoner of my nightmare, but then I met friends and they too remember the same images, and then I found documents corroborating that what we have seen was true.
And that was the first night. First night at which time I turned to my father. At one point I said, I'm afraid to die in flames. I had ideas, images from history books, the Inquisition, when Jews were put to death because of their belief. And they would they would burn like we just sit on the stake. And I was afraid of that. I said maybe I should run to the electrified gates and die. But even that was part of the nightmare, the possibility of going to a meeting the whole way I should speak to my father like that about the.
And then I said to my father, it's not true, I don't think it's true, I don't think this is possible. I cannot believe at all this, though you'd seen it with the shadow in the shadow of flames. I said to him, I cannot believe this is true. I cannot believe that this could happen in the heart of Europe, civilized Europe, the middle of the 20th century, and the world would be silent. That was the one thing that bothers me more than anything else later on is the silence of the world.
Yes. And you say that that hatred is not the opposite of love. Indifference is the indifference. That's why, you know, we created the foundation, my wife and I later on with my Nobel money, with some friends. And the reason was to fight indifference. And we have seminars all over the world, Anatomy of Hate. We tried to understand the genesis of the texture of the fabric of hate. In a way, we know how to fight it.
Indifference. How can we fight indifference? Can you tell us about the last time you saw your mother? OK, there are no words or images that are that are strong enough to conceive that that there are people who did this to other people, they're just there just aren't no matter how good a writer you are, no matter how many times you say the words and you were saying to me that it's hard now. Even you were there, you saw it and you can't believe it.
I believe it. I can't understand. Can't understand. The enemy was counting on that, he was counting on the fact that in pushing violence and cruelty and sadism and brutality and evil to its grotesque limits, that we, the victims will be incapable of telling the tale. In one of my books, I have written very few books on the subject, written by now some thirty six books. It is really only one this autobiographical and maybe two or three on the subject around it.
But I cannot because I feel the words are inadequate. But in one of my books there is an assessment who tries to kill the young student and it helps him. Are you crazy? You want to live whatever you think. He will tell the tale and people will know they will listen to you, but they will say he is mad at you. Truth is the truth of a madman.
And that's what he was counting on, which is what, you know, you describe in the very beginning of Night when Moishe the Beadle came back after he had been taken to one of the concentration camps, one of the men who lived in your village and came back and tried to tell people what had happened. And nobody they thought he was crazy.
You thought he was gone. I thought. But I like to you like I listened to him, I, I will speak about it because I feel it is disappeared. He vanished and someone at least must remember him. So I bring him into every one of my tales. There was a 1941 and the came back to tell you what it happened. He was deported also in 1941. I speak about it in 1941, many foreign born Jews were deported to Poland and they were massacred.
He was one of them and he came back. There was no gas chamber yet. The whole thing began in 1942, really with the funds. So you shouldn't wonder. And he came back and this poor man was trying to tell the tale. Nobody believed and I would spend hours with him. I left to listen to him. I love stories. And you say the enemy counted on that. The enemy count on the disbelief of the world and the victims.
So life for you every day after that first night.
I guess you I don't know from what I, I gathered from reading, you reach a state where you try to leave your body and just let the body be there. And you say that you recognize many times that the separation of the body from the the spirit of who you were, but you lost faith in God there.
I did lose faith in God, but I rebelled against rebelled against God. I grew up in an environment which was so religious and myself, I was so religious that I couldn't break with the court or with the faith of God. But I rebelled against it. I was angry. I still am angry. I don't understand him. But then to say that only God was responsible was also no answer. But what helped me really there was my father. The fact that he and I were together, I knew that if I die, he dies.
So I had to remain alive.
And from the first night that you arrived, that became your vow to yourself to not be separated from. The main thing was my father. He had the same probably with the same desire to stay with me because he thought that without him I would die. And I have never been so close to my father as I have been there, because at home, you know, he was the intercessor in town. He whenever I needed somebody, something came to my father and I rarely saw my father except on the Sabbath and even on the Sabbath.
During the war, the Jews were arrested. He would go and save them and ransom them, free them in the camp. He became terribly close. And in the camp, what was it like day to day, day to day? Could you explain it? You got up in the morning because you wanted to sleep. The sleep was the best part of that life because you had dreams. The dreams were good, pleasant, sunny, really, or we had good dreams.
And to dream, therefore, was was paradise. And then always it was broken abruptly and we had to go quickly and wash everything quickly. Camp life meant to run, run fast. Always.
Were you always aware of the ovens and those who were being taken to the gas chamber? We were aware, but we never spoke of it. Never spoke. We were afraid to speak about my mother or my sister. Move us to try and try. Because if you start crying, you wouldn't stop crying there in the camp. No, no, no. It took me a while, even after the war, to crack. What I want to read is to cry.
The gift I wanted to receive after the war was the ability to cry.
So day to day, you would go you working in the camps and loading trucks. And we work together with my father most of the time. And I would help him. He would help me. And during work, I work together with a former head of a music academy and we learned together to do everything by heart. So we studied together, the Bible together while working. I didn't see his face on the phone from from the back, but I heard his voice and we started I became a student.
I had a teacher.
And so during those days, you would pass the time working and then live to to eat the bread and the soup and and then to sleep.
That was the main the main preoccupation is not to sleep or to eat, to eat. Therefore, when people speak about theology, even myself and I speak later about theology, it's not in those days. The questions came later. The piece of bread there was more important than God. And we wanted bread. And the question was not really whether God is just or not. The question was what kind of soup are we going to get tonight? Did we think that I have a large portion?
And through all of this, you survive most of the time with your father and shortly before you were afraid your father died. Yes, after we arrived in January, the night your father died was the night I was born. It's unbelievable when I read that my father was the only person in my life then and I had to be with him to the end. Were there moments so that you wrestled with your own guilt of thinking? At times? Perhaps.
Maybe if he is gone, I can only concentrate on my own survival. There was there must have been because you see the family in Jewish life, in Jewish history, was a source of survival. The anchor, the enemy knew it and therefore he used that family relationships were so close that one became also a danger to the other. I was so close to my father that I knew if something happens to him, I will die. And therefore, of course, I'm sure that that one moment I must have thought perhaps it would be better not to be with him.
I tell a story in light about one father and one son who were separated because the son was running away. And I always prayed then I don't want to be like him with him. I want to be with your father, of course, is my father. And I was saying that your father died January 29th.
Yes. You were born ten years, 13 years later.
I was born, yes. And so when you were freed, what was the first thing you did? I prayed. You prayed. I prayed with more than a group of people in the block, in a kind of barracks for children, young youngsters. And the first thing we did was organize the menang, which is a kind of community to pray. And we said Kaddish for the first time, which is the prayer for the that the first thing they didn't eat, although we were hungry, we were starving people emaciated.
But we wanted to pray, was important to pray, to show God and the world, to show to ourselves that we are still capable of praying.
Why do you think that there are people in the world who still don't know what a Holocaust is or what what happened that six million, six million. And you hear the term six million and it it doesn't register that that that is a mother and a child and fathers and uncles and nephews and cousins. Six million. It's it's the entire city of Chicago.
It's Norway is Belgium, the whole country, a whole nation vanishing in the night. Why people don't believe maybe something is wrong with the way we have told the story. Maybe the story cannot be told. We try it. God knows some of us have tried. Of course, this book, it's not it wasn't easy to write and believe me, it's not easy to talk about. I rarely talk about. And if you convinced me to be with you today, it's because also partly because of you, but partly because of the statistics that I heard, that means we have to do something more.
Something is better, something else.
Do you see America's indifference, the world's indifference in other parts of the world? South Africa, Bosnia, of course. How many years did we fight against apartheid? And nobody listened to us. My wife and I, when my son entered nineteen seventy six to South Africa fighting against apartheid from town to town.
And then we came back, we told the story and people really didn't care that much. They didn't care. As for Bosnia, I. I don't know what else we can do.
The children in Sarajevo, the orphans, the widows, the hunger, the humiliation. It must do something more, you say in the book night that after liberation, one day you were able to get up and after gathering all of your strength, you wanted to see yourself in the mirror hanging on the opposite wall. You said you'd not seen yourself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me and the look in his eyes as they stared into mine has never left me.
Well, I left the camp, but the camp hasn't left me. To this day, maybe more than before I remember, and my memory is becoming day after day more intense. I remember more than before. Really? Yeah, I have. I dream more than before. About those nights, those days, those weeks.
I wondered how could you ever have another happy day? How could you experience joy? How could you, you know, look at the world with laughter again after having seen babies thrown into the flames, after having experienced the Holocaust. So how were you able to to maintain your sanity, you and so many others who survived?
I could turn it around. It's because we have seen what we had seen, that when we have reasons to rejoice, we know how no one in the world has a sense of gratitude, the way we express it to ourselves and to others. After the war, I came to France and I didn't stop saying thank you, thank you for anyone. Thank you for for the bread I eat. Thank you for the education I receive. Thank you for the human being, for remaining human.
And that sense of gratitude prevails today. You have no idea what happiness means to those people who have seen everything taken away from them. But we see a child smiling. I could take that child and hug him or her for hours and hours over. We are in love and we see a beautiful woman. And as a father, what it means for the father to see his son, to be with my wife and talk and go to concerts and try to help others, which is an important, very important component in our life.
To be free is important, but to help others be free is even more important. One of the things that I got from reading night is that the human being can survive anything. You can survive anything. And you said you're not so sure.
You know, we survive, but there is something that dies in us. In general, when people die, they don't die alone. Something in us dies with them. I cannot die for them, but I can I can see to it that when they die, they are not alone and I am present to them.
I can't imagine what lessons there are to be learned. Six million lessons to be learned from that. What do you think?
It is not to be indifferent. Surely one lesson and then very simply, I have six million reasons to give up on the world, to give up on any other person, to give up on God, on faith or literature, on words. And in spite of that, I must have faith in the other person. I must have faith in words, in language. I must have faith in the possibility of every human being to remain human in spite of everything.
I'm Oprah Winfrey and you've been listening to Super Soul Conversations, the podcast. You can follow Super Soul on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. If you haven't yet, go to Apple podcast and subscribe rate and review this podcast. Join me next week for another super soul conversation. Thank you for listening.