Acceptance Speech, Elie Wiesel, 1986
*This is Elie Wiesel’s (author of the autobiography “Night” and a Holocaust survivor) acceptance speech given in 1986 for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
1. It is with a profound sense of humility that I accept the honor
2. you have chosen to bestow upon me. I know: your choice
3. transcends me. This both frightens and pleases me.
4. It frightens me because I wonder: do I have the right to
5. represent the multitudes who have perished? Do I have the
6. right to accept this great honor on their behalf? ... I do not.
7. That would be presumptuous. No one may speak for the
8. dead, no one may interpret their mutilated dreams and visions.
9. It pleases me because I may say that this honor belongs to all
10. the survivors and their children, and through us, to the Jewish
11. people with whose destiny I have always identified.
12. I remember: it happened yesterday or eternities ago. A young
13. Jewish boy discovered the kingdom of night. I remember his
14. bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast.
15. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery
16. altar upon which the history of our people and the future of
17. mankind were meant to be sacrificed.
18. I remember: he asked his father: "Can this be true?" This is the
19. twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such
20. crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?
21. And now the boy is turning to me: "Tell me," he asks. "What
22. have you done with my future? What have you done with your
24. And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory
25. alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if
26. we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.
27. And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world
28. did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be
29. silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering
30. and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the
31. oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor,
32. never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human
33. lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national
34. borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women
35. are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that
36. place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
37. Of course, since I am a Jew profoundly rooted in my peoples' memory
38. and tradition, my first response is to Jewish fears, Jewish needs,
39. Jewish crises. For I belong to a traumatized generation, one that
40. experienced the abandonment and solitude of our people. It would be
41. unnatural for me not to make Jewish priorities my own: Israel, Soviet
42. Jewry, Jews in Arab lands ... But there are others as important to me.
43. Apartheid is, in my view, as abhorrent as anti-Semitism. To me,
44. Andrei Sakharov's isolation is as much of a disgrace as Josef
45. Biegun's imprisonment. As is the denial of Solidarity and its leader
46. Lech Walesa's right to dissent. And Nelson Mandela's interminable
48. There is so much injustice and suffering crying out for our attention:
49. victims of hunger, of racism, and political persecution, writers and
50. poets, prisoners in so many lands governed by the Left and by the
51. Right. Human rights are being violated on every continent. More people
52. are oppressed than free. And then, too, there are the Palestinians to
53. whose plight I am sensitive but whose methods I deplore. Violence
54. and terrorism are not the answer. Something must be done about
55. their suffering, and soon. I trust Israel, for I have faith in the Jewish
56. people. Let Israel be given a chance, let hatred and danger be
57. removed from her horizons, and there will be peace in and around
58. the Holy Land.
59. Yes, I have faith. Faith in God and even in His creation. Without it no
60. action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference:
61. the most insidious danger of all. Isn't this the meaning of Alfred Nobel's
62. legacy? Wasn't his fear of war a shield against war?
63. There is much to be done, there is much that can be done. One
64. person – a Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, one person of
65. integrity, can make a difference, a difference of life and death. As long
66. as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as
67. one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What
68. all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that
69. we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall
70. lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality
71. of our freedom depends on theirs.
72. This is what I say to the young Jewish boy wondering what I have
73. done with his years. It is in his name that I speak to you and that
74. I express to you my deepest gratitude. No one is as capable of
75. gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night. We
76. know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an
77. offering; not to share them would mean to betray them. Our
78. lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who
79. need us desperately.
80. Thank you, Chairman Aarvik. Thank you, members of the Nobel
81. Committee. Thank you, people of Norway, for declaring on this
82. singular occasion that our survival has meaning for mankind.
It can be inferred that "the boy" throughout paragraphs 4-6 is