Bringing the Holocaust Unit to Closure: Implications for the Future
SEGMENT II: Elie Wiesel’s Remarks at the Opening of the Holocaust Museum
University of Texas Library Online: Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection
View the five-minute segment of "A Week of Remembrance: The Dedication of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum," The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (5 minutes).
Discussion Questions: (10 minutes)
- Why do you think Mr. Wiesel left his prepared speech to ask President Clinton to do something about Bosnia?
Mr. Wiesel has acted as the spokesperson for the Holocaust survivors and the voice of a moral conscience. After visiting the former Yugoslavia, he was most disturbed by the atrocities and conditions he witnessed. Wiesel felt compelled to ask Mr. Clinton to address this problem. One of the many lessons of the Holocaust is that the world remained silent during the 1930s and 1940s. By bringing the critical problem to worldwide attention, Wiesel washoping that some action would be taken to help the plight of the people of the former Yugoslavia.
- Do you think that Wiesel was correct in using this forum for addressing this problem?
Yes: The primary purpose of the Museum is education. Therefore, it was fitting and proper that Wiesel use this opportunity to address the critical conditions in Bosnia. The lessons of the Holocaust will remain lost if action is not taken when genocide and atrocities are taking place. The world cannot stand idly by.
No: Wiesel overstepped his bounds by putting the President on the spot. It was inappropriate and disrespectful. There are more suitable forums for addressing these issues.
- Why was Wiesel able to do this?
Wiesel also has a unique status. As a Nobel Peace Prize winner, he has earned tremendous worldwide admiration and therefore is a voice and presence that commands respect. Very few individuals could have carried off the message to Clinton as Wiesel did.
Furthermore, his ability to speak directly to the president can be viewed as a positive comment on the democratic process in this country. Where else could a private citizen address the president of the United States in such a public forum to demand action? It is a reflection of our American brand of democracy that our leaders are responsible to their citizens and that private citizens have the right to ask their leaders for “redress of grievances.” In this case it was to ask that the United States take some action to relieve the suffering in Bosnia.
- Did Wiesel’s remarks make a difference?
This is an appropriate place to read the accompanying remarks made at the Oval Office on December 13, 1995.
These remarks are evidence that the President took Wiesel’s words to heart and looked for a way to help. Wiesel voiced his approval, recognizing what a difficult task it was to find an appropriate way to help Bosnia. Wiesel acknowledges the importance of the United States’ exhibiting moral leadership by working to send troops to keep the peace.