“Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim,” said human rights activist, author and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel upon accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. I made sure to remember his selfless words and example when I voted today.
I was reminded of Elie Wiesel yesterday as I watched the film, Denial, currently in theatrical release nationwide. The film also underscored for me why the outcome of our Presidential election today is so important. Based on the acclaimed book, Denial: Holocaust History on Trial, Denial recounts American professor and author Deborah E. Lipstadt’s legal battle for historical truth against debunked British historian David Irving, who accused her of libel when she declared him a Holocaust denier.
The film, adapted by screenwriter David Hare and directed by Mick Jackson, is a fascinating recreation of a complex case that played out in the British legal system in the late 1990s. The case was ignited by an individual whose incendiary and deliberate misinterpretation in print of historical fact was a ruse to promote bigotry and yet, at its core, a sad effort to gain the respect he coveted in the publishing world and halls of academia where he was a pariah.
The film’s parallels with this Presidential election were not lost on me. According to Denial’s screenwriter David Hare: “We are entering, in politics especially, a post-factual era in which it is apparently permissible for public figures to assert things without evidence, and then to justify their assertions by adding, ‘Well, that’s my opinion’ – as though that in itself was some kind of justification. It isn’t. And such charlatans need to learn it isn’t.”
I can’t think of anyone I’ve admired more in my lifetime than Elie Wiesel (1928-2016). He was and continues to be a hero of mine in a world where heroes are few and far between. The world first came to know him through his memoir, Night (1959), a masterpiece that recounted his horrific experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, where he lost both of his parents and sister. He not only continued to “talk the talk,” but “walk the walk” until his death this summer at age 87.
Miraculously, I did get to speak to Mr. Wiesel on the phone when I invited him to be a presenter at our annual Christopher Awards gala. I was determined to encourage his active participation as we honored winning authors and filmmakers during my tenure as Director of the Christopher Awards. His life absolutely defined the Christopher mantra: “Better to light one candle, than to curse the darkness.”
Although he was unable to accept my invitation that year due to scheduling conflicts, he graciously promised that he would try for the following year’s gala. That was not to be for reasons that have nothing to do with Mr. Wiesel; but his example has instinctively fired my social conscience and my support and respect for filmmakers and other artists and writers who shine a light on injustice and social issues.
Mr. Wiesel’s resilience in the face of unspeakable horrors and his dedication to promoting peace, human rights and human decency throughout the world are a reminder to me to take nothing true and decent for granted and to strengthen my resolve to speak out against lies and injustice.
We, as proud Americans, have the freedom and opportunity today to make a crucial decision that will not only impact our own lives, but the lives of our kids, grandkids, our democracy and planet as we know it. I implore you to VOTE today, as if your life depended upon it. Thank you!–Judith Trojan