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Remembering Elie Wiesel Who Died At Age 87


And on this Fourth of July, we're remembering Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who died over the weekend. Wiesel survived the Nazi concentration camps Buchenwald and Auschwitz. He went on to write dozens of books, starting with his most famous, a book based on his time in the camps titled "Night." Wiesel spent his life reminding the world of what Holocaust victims endured and was a driving force behind the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

President Obama called him one of the great moral voices of our time and, in many ways, the conscience of the world. Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea was a friend and a colleague. And we reached him via Skype from Tel Aviv. And may I say, Elie Wiesel famously said it was his duty to never let those who suffered be forgotten. Why do you think he was compelled to do that?

NAHUM BARNEA: First of all, he was a teenager. He was 16 years old when he was deported first to Auschwitz, then the death march to Buchenwald. You know, he walked with his father. And his father perished in Buchenwald. So on the one hand, he was young enough to come out of the ashes and start his life from anew. But at the same time, he was in the camps for about a year, a long time.

He went to Paris, to France. And there he started to write. And this I believe a mixture of very, very talented and intelligent, but at the same time somebody who really felt compelled to carry this kind of message. This was the combination which allowed him to be so important in later years.

MONTAGNE: His advocacy went well beyond bearing witness to the Holocaust. At the end of his life, what were the big issues, the global issues most important to him?

BARNEA: I believe that his two last campaigns, if you want, were Rwanda, demanding an end to the war and some kind of aid to the refugees. The other one was against the Iranian nuclear installations. And here, I'm not sure he was very happy with the deal the United States made. But he gave his best advice to President Obama to try to stop the Iranian nuclear campaign.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Wiesel was virtually never critical of Israel, at least publicly.

BARNEA: Right, right.

MONTAGNE: And some have criticized him for that. Did you ever have a conversation with him about that stance?

BARNEA: Yeah, sure. We had a lot of conversations about this subject in particular because I- as a columnist writing for an Israeli newspaper, I'm quite critical of my government. But he, from the start of every conversation, insisted that he will never do what I do because of a very simple reason. He is not living here in Israel.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for taking this time to share your thoughts about Mr. Wiesel.

BARNEA: Thank you very much.

MONTAGNE: Nahum Barnea is the chief political columnist for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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