The antisemitic vandalism of Elie Wiesel's house hits home

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 10:50am

More than 70 years have passed since the murder of six million European Jews at the hands of Nazis and their collaborators. Memorials have been constructed, institutes have been formed, and survivors have been recognized and honored. But even with this sore and fragile past, the ongoing fire of antisemitism has yet to be permanently extinguished in its form of undeniable hatred. 

Indeed, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel – a Holocaust survivor who went on to pen the book “Night” – dedicated his life to eradicating this virulent flame.

Years later, his childhood home in Sighet, Romania has been recently spray-painted with vulgar antisemitic slurs: “Jewish Nazi lies in hell with Hitler.”

Coming across this article on the front page of the New York Times in August, I did not internalize this as merely an act of Jewish hatred, but as a personal attack on my own familial history. In fact, years before the Holocaust, my grandfather, Mendel, spent much of his time in this home with Elie’s father, Shlomo. And years later, my father was born and raised just down the road from this simple blue home on the corner of Strada Tudor Vladimirescu.

My father, Harvey, was born in September of 1953, only a few years after 1944, when his parents were forced to flee from Sighet. They later survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Mauthausen concentration camps.

Although my father did not know Elie personally, the famous writer’s quaint blue childhood home remained a visual reminder of the hatred that loomed in not only the town, but the country. My father recalls playing with the kids who lived in Wiesel’s home. He also shares that after the war the Jewish homes of Sighet were empty and were managed by the remaining Jewish community group.

In 2013, I had the rare opportunity of retracing my father’s footsteps in his birth town. Although my father’s own childhood home was torn down years prior, the Wiesels’ home served as a physical memorial to the lamentable history of Sighet’s Jews. Now, with only approximately 20 Jews remaining in the town of Sighet – down from 13,000 during the war – this home is a reminder of an unforgivable past, but also stands to remember those who were engulfed by the fire of antisemitism.

Even as this fire still remains burning in spite of its long history, we must recognize this painful past for the sake of the future.  

During my time interning at USC Shoah Foundation, I had the opportunity to engage with the Visual History Archive and IWitness program, giving me a strong sense of hope for future generations.

When watching survivor testimony, we get a glimpse of how an incomprehensibly huge and horrific chapter of human history devastated the lives of ordinary individuals who are not unlike ourselves. Had they spent a few minutes watching IWitness, perhaps the vandals of Wiesel’s home would have thought twice about defacing not just a house, but an emblematic recognition that the Holocaust happened – and can happen again.

As this hateful graffiti is painted over with the house’s original blue color, we must not mask this antisemitic act, but condemn it. We must question, protest, and most importantly, remember.

Lauren Deutsch