Picture this: On a chilly morning in May, 1944, in Sighet, a remote town in the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania, some 1,500 Jews are rounded up in the town square and marched through the deserted streets to the local railway station. Among the deportees is the 14 year-old Elie Wiesel, with his family, who were then forced into cattle cars, 80 people in one car, for a three-day journey to an unknown destination – later revealed as Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Now picture this: The same town and the identical route. But this time, Sunday, 10 September, 73 years later, another 1,500 citizens of the town, the children and women in traditional dress, have assembled at the childhood home of Wiesel, which is now a museum, for a torchlight procession to honour the memory of Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Prize laureate for peace and fighter for human rights, to mark the first anniversary of his death.
The participants wore caps with the words “Never Again” and white T-shirts imprinted with the slogan “Anti-Semitism led to Auschwitz”. At the end of the march, a plaque at the railway station was unveiled, renaming it “Gara Elie Wiesel”.
The march was the culmination of a two-day event organised by Limmud FSU (former Soviet Union), the Conference for Jewish Material Claims against Germany, March of the Living, the World Zionist Organisation, the Sighet municipality and the Romanian Jewish community.
‘Always take sides – silence will only encourage the oppressor’
The event had been arranged two years before, with the active cooperation and participation of Wiesel, but sadly he had fallen ill and was no longer able to travel.
Chaim Chesler, the originator of the idea and founder of Limmud FSU determined that the project would go ahead nevertheless. “We are fulfilling Elie’s dream by repeating this march from his house to the train station.”
READ MORE – Limmud FSU in Romania:
At a press conference earlier in the day, the mayor of Sighet, Horia Vasile Scubli, expressed the hope that the march might become an annual event.
Matthew Bronfman, chairman of Limmud FSU, said Wiesel was a hero who never shouted but quietly and persuasively taught others how they should treat each other.
“Over 20 years, I often consulted him and his advice was to read, to learn, to question and only then to take action. One of the things he demonstrated better than anyone else was his ability to talk to powerful people in a way that was based on ethics, morality and humanism and to challenge them when they had to be challenged.”
Among speakers who had arrived specially for the event was Israeli parliamentarian Yair Lapid. Wiesel had asked that Lapid be invited as his father, the late Tommy Lapid, a former minister of justice and noted public figure, had been a personal friend.
At the culmination of the march, Lapid said: “Wiesel’s private memory has become the collective memory of an entire people. We have gathered here to honour him for his
contribution to the memory of the Holocaust and the struggle against anti-Semitism.”
Lapid had arrived in Sighet after visiting the graves of his great-grandfathers and saying Kaddish in the nearby town of Cehu Silvaniei. In a reference to current events, Lapid said: “While I believe President Trump is a strong supporter of Israel, I was deeply disappointed with the absence of a condemnation of the outbreaks of anti-Semitism in the USA and elsewhere, which in some ways remind us of the horrific events of the 1930s.”
State advisor Ramona Chirila Lohan, speaking on behalf of Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose, said: “When I was a student, we could not speak freely about what happened during the Holocaust but, today, in the Romania of my generation, we have
a chance to re-examine this horrendous chapter of our history and to continue on the path of recovery, recognition and education and to make sure such episodes will never happen again: never again.”
Gila Gamliel the Israeli Minister for Social Equality, who is also responsible for Holocaust issues on behalf of the government, said: “Elie Wiesel, with his gentle voice and powerful pen, fought against bigotry, hatred, fanaticism and the evil demons of the past. We must always take sides; silence encourages the oppressor, never the oppressed. From this place, I vow on behalf of the government of Israel that we will never forget. This is our ‘Never Again.’”