Elie Wiesel: First Person Singular Elie Wiesel: First Person Singular Elie Wiesel: First Person Singular
The Life and Work of WieselLife in Sighet, 1920-1939Annoted BibliographyNobel Peace PrizeTeaching GuideWiesel ResourcesProduction Team
Teaching Guide
Activity Two: Bearing Witness

"I believe that anyone who lived through an experience is duty bound to bear witness to it." — From Elie Wiesel: First Person Singular
1. Help students understand what it means to speak as a witness, by having them write a poem, essay or story or create a work of art about an event they saw — or "witnessed" — in person.

2. They might choose an incident as immediate as walking by a homeless person sleeping in a doorway or catching another student cheating on a test. Or they might describe how they experienced the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Encourage them along the writing path with "It's important to remember…" or "I saw it with my own eyes."

Activity Two: Questioning Faith

"And I became religious, even more so. The question to me was a double question. How come that I really became religious, more deeply than before? And the second one, how come I didn't lose my sanity? "I never divorced God. I couldn't. I'm too Jewish…But I said to myself, 'I do believe in God.' But I have the right to protest against His ways. I have the right to be angry. And so, I do it a lot, very often, and I wouldn't change a word of my discourse to God, my appeals to God, against God. Because I came to a certain formulation saying a Jew or a man can be, can be religious or can come from a religious background, with God or against God but not without God. So I cannot live without God." — From Elie Wiesel: First Person Singular
1. Discuss with students Wiesel's admission that his faith was "wounded" by the Holocaust, but that, in spite of everything, he maintained his faith in God's existence. He tells us that he talks to God, arguing with him at times, freely expressing his anger, dismay and disappointment. What does this reveal about Wiesel as a man? Do students think they would have (or could have) continued to have faith, if they had experienced what Wiesel did? Why or why not?

2. Ask students how they think Wiesel's deeply religious upbringing and the events of the Holocaust shaped the path of his life — as a witness, a teacher and a human rights activist. Why does he speak of his teachers, including strangers — and his students — with such profound reverence and respect?

3. Read the following quote from an article by Alan Dershowitz about Elie Wiesel to end the discussion and introduce the next activity (Activity Three: Making a Difference):

"Wiesel's examined life is an example to all who have experienced pain, victimization, injustice, and survival. Without forgiving the unforgivable, excusing the inexcusable, or forgetting the unforgettable, he has looked to the future. He has placed himself in harm's way repeatedly in the quest for peace, whether in war-torn Yugoslavia, the rocket-ravaged Israel during the Gulf War, or other places from which even God has seemingly stayed away."

"There is a wonderful story about a great Chasidic master who was asked whether it is ever proper to act as if God did not exist. He surprised his students by answering "yes": it is not only proper, but mandatory, to act as if there were no God when one is asked to help. Do not say "God will help." You must help. Though Elie Wiesel is a deeply religious man - even when he argues with God or refuses to forgive him - Wiesel acts as if there were no God when he is asked to help. I think I understand why. He saw that God did not help his family and friends. He also saw that human beings did not help, perhaps because they believed that God would help. Wiesel knows that we cannot control God's actions, but we can control our own actions." — Alan M. Dershowitz, 1997
>> Proceed to Activity Three: Making a Difference

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