Class Notes Prof. Elie Wiesel One Class That Changed Our Lives

Singing with Prof. Elie Wiesel in his Boston U office photo by son Joey Zimmerman

Class Notes
The Jewish Response to Jewish Persecution
Professor Elie Wiesel
Boston University
September 1976

While the world is remembering, observing, commemorating and still pondering the 75th year since the liberation of Auschwitz, I find myself immersed in class notes from Sept. 1976 at Boston University. The only class Prof Elie Wiesel taught specifically on the Holocaust began that semester and he told us it would change our lives. It certainly changed mine. Over 40 years later Joel Rappel, the director of The Elie Wiesel Archives at Mugar Library at Boston University visited me for my memorabilia, notes, photos and writings from his classes and lectures. He was particularly interested in my class notes from this class, The Jewish Response to Jewish Persecution. I knew it was the only class he taught at BU on the Holocaust because it was too painful to repeat. I didn’t know that for some reason there was no record of this important class except my class notes. When the archives were being collected, assembled and evaluated, the record of this class somehow vanished.Martha Hauptman, his incredible assistant gave years of material and documents to the library. It is a mystery why this class’s records were not found. It made me think that my notes may have some lasting value, and that I should write a book one day using his words from this amazing class, and share his thoughts and teachings. It is an awesome task, and one that I have delayed not knowing exactly how to proceed and do justice to these important words and thoughts of my beloved teacher of blessed memory. I do not have a publisher as of yet, and hope to have it done properly one day.

How can I separate the words of my teacher and my own thoughts over 40 years later? What have we learned since then? What has changed? What more can we do? I chose to put his words in italics, his powerful statements in bold italics, and my own words in regular font.

I hope the reader will understand what Prof Wiesel wanted to share, and how I’m trying to process it , with the lens of an adult now.

I have started with the very first class from Sept. 13 and hope to do justice to the life changing lessons from the most extraordinary teacher, Professor Elie Wiesel z”l. I’d like to share a brief glimpse with highlights from this life changing first class.

Sept. 13, 1976

“Night and Fog” 32-minute film was shown.

“They had a feeling they were doing the world a favor” Eichmann in Jerusalem

Can we compare modern persecutions to that of the Holocaust? We can never compare anything to it. Don’t think that it could happen again. Jews will not let it. It was a systematic factory of dead- not the same. It is possible that the next one will be total. Perhaps a nuclear holocaust. Out of indifference to danger it will happen.

Our story can save the world. We can tell what is hate, indifference, what men are capable of. The solution is not with diplomats; it is with prophets, writers, philosophers, poets.

The film, Night and Fog was made in l956- never mentioned Jews. Tried to water it down, extending it to the world, political prisoners, wrong papers, etc. Anyone could have killed a Jew without a reason. At least a political prisoner had a reason.

Babi Yar ( massacre of 34,000 Jewish men, women and children near Kiev Sept. 29-30, 1941) no mention of Jews, only Russians on monument.

1967 was a ceremony on the liberation of Auschwitz and the organizers would not let Jews participate.

His words are searing 40 years later, as we remember and observe the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Certainly, the ceremony will be different this year with precious survivors and world leaders participating.

Can our story save the world? The latest Pew Study 2020, what Americans Know About the Holocaust ( shows ignorance, but not overwhelming hatred. The push to mandate Holocaust Education in the United States and in several European countries is hopeful. Currently there are 12 states with as many close to participating. I am listed with the Connecticut Dept of Education, Social Studies Frameworks and Resources to share my studies, songs and stories from Elie Wiesel.

What else has changed?

There are hundreds of Holocaust Museums, monuments, and memorials around the world. There are organizations dedicated to teaching the Holocaust like Facing History and Ourselves (, Echoes and Reflections (, the USC Shoah Foundation- The Institute for Visual History and Education, US Holocaust Memorial Museum ( , Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Anti-Defamation League, all actively teaching tolerance, history of anti-Semitism, rise of hate movements and lessons for today. Clearly there is work to be done when the statistics show the lack of knowledge and understanding regarding the Holocaust among millennials today- let us hope those statistics change with the mandated state and international education projects in progress.

What would he say about the recent violence against Jews in this country- In a house of prayer? (Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue Oct. 27, 2018), a JCC (Poway, CA April 27, 2019), on the streets of Brooklyn and the Jersey City Kosher Supermarket attack ( Dec.10, 2019)?

I believe he would have a conference to confront the prejudice, the hatred and meet face to face with leaders in the community. He believed in studying together, speaking together, showing concern for each other’s humanity. He would counter the hatred of the extremists, showing no tolerance for hatred, bigotry and violence. He would in my opinion confront Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic elected officials in this country and minimize their influence by showing what humanity can and should be. That is perhaps my dream of what could be possible with a visionary leader like Elie Wiesel of blessed memory. Who will step up and do it today?

Revisiting these notes from his very first class makes my miss my professor, teacher and mentor even more. If we can use his words and teachings to remind of the importance of education, tolerance, memory and faith I believe those troubling statistics of ignorance would change. It is up to each of us to make a difference and the time is now. 75 years later we have work to do.

“Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere” Elie Wiesel

Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray

About the Author
Fourth generation cantor, second woman to serve a traditional synagogue and founder of the Women Cantors' Network. Deborah studied with Elie Wiesel z"l and continues to be inspired by his teachings. A cantor in Ridgefield, CT, cellist, tallit Swedish weaving embroiderer, mother of 6, grandmother of one. Wife and friend.
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