Friday June 26
Today marks the beginning of the Holocaust Era Assets conference being held in Prague and organized by the organization I’m working with. It is the last large event that will be held during the Czech Republics tenure as president of the EU. It also marked an extraordinarily interesting day for me.
I had lunch today with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel, Ivan Klima, another wonderful author and holocaust survivor, Susan Sher, Michele Obama’s chief of staff, and Ambassador Stewart Eisenstadt. Needless to say the company was not my normal Friday crowd, and it was such an honor to meet these people, especially Elie Wiesel.
I would like to give a couple of highlights from this lunch and from the opening ceremonies of the Holocaust Era Assets Conference, which can be watched in full.
Ivan Klima went to the prison camps when he was 13 years old. He was alone, separated from his parents. He wrote in one of his books that he remembered the first thing he was concerned about was missing school. He didn’t know how he was going to catch up on all the work he was missing…
Soon after his arrival he was shoved in a room with many other Jews, they were packed in, it was freezing. They all were gathered to listen to a performance of an Opera (the name of it escapes me, it has become a kind of national opera here in the Czech Republic). The conductor played the piano and conducted, the singers were all wrapped in whatever coats they could find, as it was freezing, and they would get up and stand on boxes when it was their time to perform. He wrote that many people cried during this performance, he said that he felt like crying…
Many years later, when he first went to the national Opera house here in Prague and watched the same Opera on stage with lavish costumes and in full regal; he recalled that it had not one ounce of the feeling and passion that it did for him crammed into a tiny, freezing room in a prison camp…
Elie Wiesel… He looked remarkably well for an 80 year old man. He was friendly and human. He gave one of the Holocaust Era Assets Conference’s opening speeches along with two others that are of note but paled next to him. He was riveting.
He Began be recalling some personal memories. He read from a ledger that was kept by the Hungarian army. A lieutenant and policemen went into the countryside town to take the possessions of an old woman. She possessed, I’ll quote him directly here, “A one pengo, which is almost nothing in Hungarian, two small coins, three smaller coins, and two pieces of a 21 centimeter tall solid brass candle sticks, the Shabbat candle sticks, and that’s all she possessed. And they took it, and they recorded dutifully. Then they came three houses to her right, and they found from the whole family, 431 pengo’s, the entire cash that the family possessed, a camera, a fountain pen, one pair of seemingly gold earrings, a golden ring, a silver ring, three ancient silver coins, a sewing machine, and three batteries for flashlights. The old lady was my grandmother, and the family was mine.”
He was a moving speaker, passionate with moments of poetry. Again it was my honor to meet him. Two other quotes and I’ll leave it.
He said, “A very great Hasidic master said once, I think it was the (name?)… he said, “If you want to find a spark, look for it in the ashes.“”
and, ” I believe he or she who listens to a witness becomes a witness. .”
It was a beautiful and interesting day today. I am blessed. We are.