On Monday, in an emotional ceremony in New York City, Israeli President Shimon Peres awarded his Presidential Medal of Distinction to Elie Wiesel.
The ceremony was conducted in the presence of Peres; Ron Prosor, Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations; Ido Aharoni, Israel's Consul General in New York; and, of course, Elie Wiesel and his wife.
The opening ceremony noted that Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Holocaust survivor, has “left his mark on all of humanity for his unique and ongoing contribution to the commemoration of the Holocaust legacy and transmission of a strong message of peace and human dignity to the whole world."
Immediately afterward, Peres placed the Medal of Distinction around Wiesel's neck. "It is an honor and a privilege to award you the Presidential Medal of Distinction, for your work over many long years preserving the memories of the Holocaust."
"The Holocaust taught us that killing is not only with guns and weapons but also with indifference - and you Elie, are saving the world from indifference," the President continued.
"You hoist the flag of humanity to prevent bloodshed and to struggle against racism and anti-Semitism, and in the prevention of war. You personally experienced the toughest horrors of humanity and as a Holocaust survivor, you chose to devote your life to get the message out: never again."
Wiesel thanked the President warmly, stating with a trembling voice, "I am very moved [. . .] Israel is at the center of my world; while I do not live there, I feel that Israel lives inside of me."
"I believe that life is not made of years, but made of many moments," Wiesel stated, "and in a moment like this, your entire life goes through your eyes."
Interestingly, Wiesel also discusses his draw to Zionism, which came after the Holocaust. While he preferred to study Talmud, he said, his parents forced him to learn Hebrew in Poland - something he was eventually very grateful for.
Wiesel, born in Sighet, Romania, was deported with his family to Auschwitz in 1944 and survived the horrors of the war there. In 1963, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States, where he began public activism to perpetuate the legacy of The Holocaust. Wiesel has become the central US figure in the field, and is one of the best-known Holocaust experts worldwide.
Wiesel encourages other survivors to tell their stories, published more than 40 books, and won many literary prizes. In 1986 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work as head of the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust, which was established at the request of President Carter from 1978 to 1986.
Among other projects, Wiesel participated in the planning and the establishment of the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, United States. In 1993 he lit, along with President Bill Clinton, the eternal flame in the memory of the museum, as part of the opening ceremony.
The majority of the profits from his books help fund the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. In Israel, he established the Tzipporah House - a learning center and food bank for the Ethiopian residents of Ashkelon and Kiryat Malachi, in the name of his sister, who died in Auschwitz.
The President’s Medal of Distinction is the highest civil medal given by Israel. It was first presented on March 1, 2012, and is awarded to people who have made an outstanding contribution to the State of Israel or to humanity, through their talents, services, or in any other form.
Previous winners of the award have included US President Barack Obama, former US President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger, the Music Director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta, The Rashi Foundation, and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.
A video of the full ceremony is available above.