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Reprinted from Alternet
The news of Elie Wiesel's death in the early morning of July 2 ushered in veneration and reflections from figures across the political spectrum, from Bill Clinton and Donald Trump to Benjamin Netanyahu and George W. Bush. The outpouring of high-level praise aimed at consolidating Wiesel as the eternal voice of the Holocaust and the central preceptor of its lessons. Those who criticized his legacy or pointed out his moral contradictions, meanwhile, were ferociously attacked by the forces he helped inspire.
Back when I was in junior high school, the rabbi of my family's synagogue urged me to read Wiesel's book Night as part of my Bar Mitzvah preparations. The story offered a look at the existence of Jews deported to Auschwitz and Buchenwald that was as harrowing as it was accessible. Reading Night while studying a Torah portion that chronicled Israelite captivity in ancient Egypt helped cement the Holocaust as a central component of my Jewish identity. Countless other Jews my age experienced Wiesel's work in a similar fashion and many came to idolize him. Like me, few of them knew much about the man beyond the tribulation he endured in Hitler's death camps.
Though my experience was particular to American Jewish life, the general public has been familiarized with Wiesel over the course of several generations through educational curricula and an expansive commercial apparatus. In 2006, after Oprah Winfrey's embarrassing promotion of James Frey's memoir, A Million Little Pieces, which turned out to be a fabrication, her book club made Night its monthly selection. The public relations maneuver drove the book onto the national bestseller list and centered its author in the celebrity limelight. Soon after, Oprah joined Wiesel on a tour of Auschwitz, where he spoke before a camera crew in mystical terms about the souls of those were exterminated and how he communed with them as he stepped across the hallowed ground.
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