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September 29, 2011

Elie Wiesel at Buchenwald: “I was there, but I wasn’t there.”

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:33 am

On June 5, 2009, Elie Wiesel accompanied President Barack Obama on a trip to the Memorial Site on the grounds of the former Buchenwald concentration camp.  Obama made a televised speech, standing in front of the Jedem Das Seine gate, which was in the open position.  Standing (unseen) behind him was Bertrand Hertz, one of the Buchenwald orphans who survived.

Early in his speech, Obama said this:

We saw the area known as Little Camp where Elie and Bertrand were sent as boys. In fact, at the place that commemorates this camp, there is a photograph in which we can see a 16-year-old Elie in one of the bunks along with the others. We saw the ovens of the crematorium, the guard towers, the barbed wire fences, the foundations of barracks that once held people in the most unimaginable conditions.

Following Obama’s speech, Elie Wiesel stepped up to the podium, and said this:

Mr. President, Chancellor Merkel, Bertrand, ladies and gentlemen. As I came here today it was actually a way of coming and visiting my father’s grave — but he had no grave. His grave is somewhere in the sky. This has become in those years the largest cemetery of the Jewish people.  The day he died was one of the darkest in my life. He became sick, weak, and I was there. I was there when he suffered. I was there when he asked for help, for water. I was there to receive his last words. But I was not there when he called for me, although we were in the same block; he on the upper bed and I on the lower bed. He called my name, and I was too afraid to move. All of us were. And then he died. I was there, but I was not there.

What are we to make of this?  The reason that I dredged up this memory of Elie Wiesel’s words at Buchenwald is because the question of whether Elie was really an orphan at Buchenwald just won’t go away.  Now a new post, which questions Elie Wiesel’s claim to be a Buchenwald orphan, has just gone up on the Elie Wiesel Cons the World blog, which you can read here.