«December 9, 2012 Oprah and Elie Wiesel: Living with an Open Heart Y Y FULL TR ANSCRIPT ACT ONE OPRAH: So, may I say what an honor it is to have you ...»
December 9, 2012
Oprah and Elie Wiesel:
Living with an Open Heart
FULL TR ANSCRIPT
OPRAH: So, may I say what an honor it is to have you here. My hero. My friend. After surviving open-heart
surgery last year, how are you feeling?
PROF. WIESEL: Today? Much better.
OPRAH: Today. Today, much better.
PROF. WIESEL: First, because I'm with you. You know how much—how close I am to you.
4 BEGIN VIDEO CLIP OPRAH: "Friend" is not a word I use loosely. I'm proud to call Elie Wiesel a friend for the past decade. He was born in 1928 in Sighet, Transylvania, now a part of Romania. One of four children, he had two older sisters, Hilda and Beatrice, and one younger named Tzipora.
In 1944, Elie was 15 when the Nazis deported him and his family to Auschwitz.
By the time the camps were liberated by the Allied troops less than a year later, his mother, father and youngest sister had all perished.
After the war, Elie embarked on a new life in Paris and became a journalist. It wasn't until he turned 30 that he decided to break his silence about his experiences during the war in a book called Night.
Since its publication in 1958, Night has been translated into 30 languages and has been read by millions of people. In 2006, I chose it for my book club, and I had the privilege of visiting Auschwitz with Elie Wiesel as my guide.
In 1986, Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. The Nobel committee called him "one of the most important spiritual leaders … a messenger to mankind." A prolific writer and globally renowned champion of human rights, Elie Wiesel has devoted his life to speaking out against global issues of indifference, intolerance and injustice.
In 2011, Elie Wiesel was rushed into emergency open-heart surgery. His long road to recovery required a great deal of soul-searching, which resulted in this latest book—a powerful work of art that ruminates on questions of life and death that we all have and what it really means to be human.
fefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefe efefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefef 4 END VIDEO CLIP OPRAH: Do you still feel that your body was ravaged by the opening of your heart?
PROF. WIESEL: It was because I get tired very…very quickly.
PROF. WIESEL: I used to walk a lot, no problem. But now if I walk even five minutes, I get tired.
OPRAH: Really? In 2006, you and I walked the grounds of Auschwitz together. Actually, on my 52nd birthday that was.
PROF. WIESEL: I remember that. What a gift I gave you.
OPRAH: That was.
PROF. WIESEL: It was a gift.
OPRAH: Yeah. You had written 47 books at the time, and you said that you hadn't begun yet. Do you still feel that way now?
PROF. WIESEL: Always.
OPRAH: I remember hearing that and thinking— PROF. WIESEL: Always. Absolutely.
PROF. WIESEL: Every day I ask myself the same question: What have I done? Is it enough? Does it justify all that I wanted to accomplish and to do? But I am not sure of anything.
OPRAH: Wow. I'm going to get to that, more of that, in a moment. Because when I read this—this powerful little book, Open Heart—I couldn't believe that you were still questioning that. But when we were in Poland, I remember you said that the souls who perished at Auschwitz were still there. That they listen.
OPRAH: Do you think the grounds speak? It carries its own energy here. It has the voices of the dead, do you think?
PROF. WIESEL: I think the souls are here. I think that they listen, they cry, they warn. Look, this is the largest cemetery in recorded history. And what do you see? Nothing.
PROF. WIESEL: But the cemetery is in our heart.
fefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefe efefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefef PROF. WIESEL: You know, I have in my pocket the picture of my little sister, which I've never spoken about, not even with you. The only time I cry—it's not when I speak about my parents, but when I speak about my little sister.
PROF. WIESEL: There—she makes me cry.
OPRAH: How old was she?
PROF. WIESEL: Seven.
OPRAH: She was 7. She was 7 when you went to the camp. I know; I remember walking the grounds with you and us standing there, the two of us standing there, and looking at the way your sister had gone.
OPRAH: Where were you separated from your little sister and your mother?
PROF. WIESEL: There. There. And my sisters, with the two older sisters, my grandmother and my little sister.
I remember her because she had a red coat that she got for holiday.
OPRAH: A little red coat.
PROF. WIESEL: Yeah.
PROF. WIESEL: And that's when I saw them—I saw them disappear all of a sudden. We went left; they went right. They went to the crematorium. That was the crematorium.
OPRAH: Why do you think it is speaking of her that still brings the tears? Because of a life unfulfilled?
PROF. WIESEL: Oh.
OPRAH: Why— PROF. WIESEL: Why the children? My God, why the children? You know, that the million and a half children were killed. Then…like that. Straight from the train. Do you know what they have done to humanity? How many among them could have grown up to become scientists?
PROF. WIESEL: Physicians. Poets. Scholars. Friends of humanity. Saviors of the world. What they have done to the world.
OPRAH: You've witnessed and written about the depths of both human cruelty and also of what we call human grace. How do you make sense of the two extremes even now at 84?
fefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefe efefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefef PROF. WIESEL: That everything is possible.
OPRAH: Everything is possible.
PROF. WIESEL: Both evil, the power of evil, which on one level I cannot understand.
PROF. WIESEL: Why evil? Even worse, why the seduction of evil? What is there in evil that becomes so seductive to some people?
OPRAH: You write on page 66, "Could it be that for God, Evil represents just another path leading to Good?" PROF. WIESEL: Yeah.
OPRAH: You say, "For me, it is as impossible to accept Auschwitz with God as without God. But then how is one to understand His silence?" PROF. WIESEL: I don't.
OPRAH: You don't still.
PROF. WIESEL: I don't.
OPRAH: God's silence and the world's silence.
PROF. WIESEL: God's silence. At least God can say, "Who are you to understand me?" OPRAH: Yes.
PROF. WIESEL: But the world's silence is different. I don't understand it.
OPRAH: To this day.
PROF. WIESEL: To this day.
OPRAH: It's so interesting, though, because you also write that if Auschwitz did not teach the world not to be racist, then what would?
PROF. WIESEL: Yeah.
OPRAH: Rwanda didn't. Cambodia didn't. Bosnia didn't. Are we evolving as a species from racism and those kinds of atrocities?
PROF. WIESEL: I suppose about that. I was invited a few years ago to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. And I called my lecture "Will the World Ever Learn?" OPRAH: "Will the World Ever Learn?" PROF. WIESEL: And I answered, actually, no. It will not because it hasn't. Otherwise, how is one to explain Rwanda? How is one to explain that racists are still on the planet? How is one to explain the violence? How is one to explain all that? Which means they haven't learned.
fefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefe efefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefef OPRAH: So do you think we will ever learn? Do you think we will as a species?
PROF. WIESEL: As a species, I don't know. We are dealing with hundreds and thousands of years. But at least the person—the individual—will the individual learn?
OPRAH: Will the individual learn?
PROF. WIESEL: Those who— OPRAH: That's what matters.
PROF. WIESEL: Every single human being is a unique human being. And, therefore, it's…it's so criminal to do something to that human being, because he or she represents humanity. But that they change at least.
OPRAH: Yes. As you're speaking, I was thinking the better question is not, Will we as a species evolve? The better question for everybody watching is, Will you?
PROF. WIESEL: Exactly.
OPRAH: Is, Will you?
PROF. WIESEL: That's exactly it.
OPRAH: In June 2011, Elie Wiesel underwent emergency open-heart surgery at the age of 82. He chronicles his journey in his candid and poetic new memoir called Open Heart.
OPRAH: Open-heart surgery. How did that act, that physical act, change you?
PROF. WIESEL: Oh, listen, first of all, I wasn't so sure I would make it another three hours. I don't think I would have been here.
PROF. WIESEL: Yeah.
OPRAH: It was that serious.
PROF. WIESEL: That serious. Five arteries were blocked. Five. All the five arteries were blocked.
OPRAH: Wow. Wow. I love—I'm going to read from page 21, page 21 here, where you say, "Suddenly I realize that I'm in the hands of the surgeon and must face the truth: When I fall asleep, it may well be forever. Am I afraid to die? In the past, whenever I thought of death, I was not frightened. Hadn't I lived with death, even in death?" I love that sentence: "Hadn't I lived with death, even in death?" Because that's what Auschwitz was.
PROF. WIESEL: Absolutely.
fefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefe efefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefef OPRAH: That was my biggest realization. I remember standing there on the snow y grounds and thinking this was a death machine. It was a factory that produced death. Like it was a—that death was a business.
PROF. WIESEL: Absolutely.
OPRAH: Death was a business. So you had lived in death. "Why should I be afraid now?" Were you afraid?
PROF. WIESEL: Yes. Curious and afraid at the same time.
PROF. WIESEL: Yes. That means what is— OPRAH: Curious about what would happen next. What the transition would be.
PROF. WIESEL: What will happen if I die? And if I die, what will it be then? All that I have read about death and studied.
OPRAH: But you must have thought about it, but not in that way.
PROF. WIESEL: Not in that way.
OPRAH: Not until you're faced with possibly that this is the moment.
PROF. WIESEL: I'd never come so close.
OPRAH: So close.
PROF. WIESEL: Except during the war.
PROF. WIESEL: In Auschwitz, every day I was like that.
OPRAH: Yeah, but when you're living with that kind of—living in that kind of constant state of fear, I wonder, and we've talked about this before, does a part of you go numb to it? You have to go—does a part of you go numb to it in the death camp?
PROF. WIESEL: You mean then?
PROF. WIESEL: It was acceptance.
OPRAH: It was accepting that at any moment, I can— PROF. WIESEL: Any moment, I can die.
OPRAH: Any moment.
PROF. WIESEL: Any moment. All I wanted, really, is my father. For me, it was my father.
fefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefe efefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefef OPRAH: Yes.
PROF. WIESEL: My father, my father, my father.
OPRAH: And the two of you arguing over who should have the piece of bread.
PROF. WIESEL: Exactly. Exactly.
OPRAH: He wanting you to have it and you wanting him to have it.
PROF. WIESEL: Trying to convince each other that "I'm not hungry. I'm not hungry."
PROF. WIESEL: We were so hungry.
OPRAH: That makes me want to…that makes me…every time I see that story or read that story it makes me want to cry because both of you are starving and each saying: "I'm not hungry. You take it." So let's get back to the hospital bed. You're lying there on the hospital bed and suddenly realized that it's a different kind of fear than when you were in the death camps.
PROF. WIESEL: Especially since, in the meantime, they have called—they have called already Marion, my wife, and my son. And I saw them, and I realized, ah, that it's more serious than I thought.
PROF. WIESEL: If they called them, that means it is very serious.
PROF. WIESEL: And, in truth, I was not sure that I would see them again.
OPRAH: Wow. And that realization did what to you?
PROF. WIESEL: Oh, I had tears in my eyes as I have now.
PROF. WIESEL: After all, it's true I was 82, but I still had so many things to tell them. And so many things to do. So many words to write. So many books to read. So many people to see. So many friends to embrace. I still have…I wasn't ready.
OPRAH: You weren't ready.
PROF. WIESEL: I wasn't ready. My life wasn't finished. I can't—I couldn't accept it would happen.
OPRAH: Well, you say on page 34, "Many texts describe the beyond. Few take place in paradise; most unfold in hell. … Am I, in fact, already on the other side? If not, would I have been permitted a glimpse into the beyond?
I'm lying on my hospital bed, but it is hell. My skin is ripping apart; my entire body is af lame. I see myself in hell, ruled by cruel, pitiless angels. My head filled with medieval descriptions of unimaginable punishments.
I think I know—I do know—what takes place in these dreadful abysses." Now I read this, and I think if Elie Wiesel ends up in hell, then I don't have a chance. I've got to say.
fefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefe efefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefefef PROF. WIESEL: You never know why one is in hell.
OPRAH: Oh my goodness. This thing you were describing—lying on the hospital bed, skin ripping apart, body af lame, "see myself in hell"—what was that? Was that your imagination? Were you having an out-of-body experience? What was that?
PROF. WIESEL: Imagination but based on knowledge.
OPRAH: Based upon knowledge.