On the Days of Remembrance in 2001, Elie Wiesel reasoned:
“But is there hope? Is there hope in memory? There must be. Without hope memory would be morbid and sterile. Without memory, hope would be empty of meaning, and above all, empty of gratitude.”
As the world mourns the loss of a great teacher and activist, there is also a deep desire to honor his legacy. Through the voices of those who have suffered great and unimaginable injustices, we must learn that silence and “indifference is never an answer” (Wiesel, 2001). Instead, we must learn the power of courage, forgiveness, and empathy.
1. Night by Elie Wiesel
In my second year as a high school English teacher, I taught Night to 30 not so eager sophomores. I knew the memoir would have a powerful impact on the students and lead to countless discussions regarding humanity, the depth of evil within humans, and the power of the written word. What I did not anticipate was their disbelief that an atrocity of such magnitude could happen merely six decades prior. After finishing the memoir four days ahead of schedule, my students understood that Mr. Wiesel shared his painful memories and experiences not to shock and paralyze others, but to authentically remember the innocent lives that were taken and to implore them to do everything they can to prevent another Holocaust. No other way could the students, or even myself, understand the depth of Elie Wiesel’s intentions than through reading Night; a pure masterpiece of the human spirit.
2. Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak by Jena Hatzfeld
In April of 1994, Rwanda became a place of horror for many who lived there. In this collection of fourteen varying voices, Tutsis who were slain by their neighbors, Hutus, will not be forgotten. Bravely, the survivors, 1 out of every six Tutsis, try to heal by sharing the stories of their loved ones who perished and the captivating stories of how they managed to survive.
3. Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir
Bashir’s memoir is heartbreaking to read, yet like many on this list, reading Tears of the Desert is our moral obligation. Bashir was born into the Zaghawa tribe in the Sundanese desert and went on to become a doctor serving her village. In 2004 her village and the surrounding areas were attacked by the Janjaweed Arab militia with devastating consequences for all, though especially the forty two schoolgirls and their teachers who were mercilessly raped. This attack prompted Bashir to use her voice and share their story. The result of speaking out had consequences she could not have imagined, although Bashir’s courage to speak of the crimes against the girls and women in Darfur has brought awareness to the systematic brutality inflicted on the innocent and has ignited the voices of the women and girls in Darfur.
Born in Rwanda, Ilibagiza could never imagine her village viciously turning on their own people and attacking her and her family. In, 1994, she spent 91 days hiding in a cramped bathroom praying to survive the horrors her family had not. Through Ilibagiza’s story, the redemptive power of forgiveness is often overwhelming and inspiring.
5. Surviving the Bosnian Genocide: The Women of Srebrenica Speak by Selma Leydesdorff
Sixty women tell the stories of the 8,000 men and boys who were killed by the Army of the Serbian Republic in July of 1995. Although the memories are still fresh and haunting, these survivors are determined to understand the horrors brought upon them, often by neighbors and friends.
6. First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
The Khmer Rouge, Communist Party of Kampuchea, controlled Camodia from 1975 until 1979. During this turbulent reign, nearly two million people were killed, human rights were abolished, and prisons became homes for thousands. Loung Ung’s story begins when he is only five years old and he finds himself ripped from his home and family to be trained as a child soldier.
“To remember means to lend an ethical dimension to all endeavors and aspirations.” (Wiesel, 2001).
May this powerful collection encourage you to raise your voice, consider forgiveness, and help heal a world that seems all too broken.
YouTube Channel: PBS NewsHour
Featured image via NPR