A roundtable discussion hosted by the Romanian Embassy on issues of Holocaust remembrance and the threat of antisemitism was held on Capitol Hill. It featured a bevy of Jewish organizations, members of the Biden Administration, and esteemed diplomats. All were on hand to discuss past and present threats of antisemitism in seeking ways to combat it. The exclusive event, held on Nov. 30 and organized by the Romanian Embassy and Project Legacy, marked twenty years since the Wiesel Commission changed the Balkan country’s course on Holocaust remembrance. Former President Ion Iliescu established this commission in Oct. 2003 to research and create a report on the actual history of the Holocaust in Romania as many records were suppressed during the communist era.
Speakers highlighted that “Antisemitism is a symptom of the stability of [its] society and argued that new mechanisms need to be devised to fight against it.” Romanian Ambassador Andrei Muraru emphasized this notion, adding, “The launch of the Wiesel Commission set our country on a path of progress in terms of combating antisemitism and honoring the memory of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel helped make the memory of the Holocaust eternal.”
Romanian authorities were exposed as Nazi collaborators as statistics show that between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews were murdered or died in territories under its administration during World War II. Holocaust education is now a part of its curricula and serves as a vital proponent to repair its relations with Jews still living there. Many instances of antisemitism persist, however, in the country.
In November, Elisha Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s son, penned an op-ed in USA Today, likening the Oct. 7 Hamas terror assault to the worst crimes of the Holocaust. “Remember all this for when someone tries to convince you there is a moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel,” wrote Elisha Wiesel. “Who are the antisemites engaged in modern blood libel by falsely accusing Israel of genocide? Who stands up to oppose them? And who stands by silently, as so many did in the Holocaust? I often hear from people: ‘If only your father were still here!’ My father loved questions more than answers. He is no longer here to ask them. But you are.”
Elie Wiesel’s seminal memoir, Night, described in grave detail his first-hand account, though written as a “semi-fictional construct,” of witnessing and experiencing life in Auschwitz as a teenager. Wiesel’s parents and his younger sister were killed there, and as a Holocaust survivor, his life’s mission became to speak out vociferously on crimes against humanity. He authored 57 books.
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed,” wrote Wiesel. “Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence, which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.”
Until his death in July 2016, Wiesel also served as a visiting scholar at Yale University and as a Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City College of New York. For many decades, Wiesel taught Literature of Memory at Boston University. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.
“I met Elie Wiesel. He is the most important reference [of] Holocaust memory and education,” says Raya Kalenova, the Executive Vice-President and CEO of the European Jewish Congress. Just a day after she participated in the March Against Antisemitism that drew around four thousand supporters in Brussels, Kalenova says, “With rising antisemitic incidents in Belgium and Jews feeling afraid to express their identity publicly, this historic march at the heart of Europe was as a beacon of light during this dark period, coinciding with the celebration of Chanukah.
“It was deeply touching to see thousands of people in the streets of Brussels standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community and marching united against antisemitism and hate,” continues Kalenova. “We felt the empathy and solidarity of the whole Belgian society in these difficult times as antisemitic incidents are worryingly on the rise. [My] days never end — [first with] the March Against Antisemitism and then with the European Union of Jewish Students‘ fundraising dinner where I motivated [as many people as I could]. We also have a Chanukah event to prepare for now.”