Eight years ago, Holocaust survivor and author Eli Wiesel took Oprah Winfrey on a tour of Auschwitz, which she has described as a life-altering experience. On Sunday, Dec. 9, Wiesel will again speak with Oprah, this time on a "Super Soul Sunday" episode (set to air on OWN – the Oprah Winfrey Network – at 11 a.m.), where he’ll discuss his new book, “Open Heart,” inspired by his experience of being rushed into open heart surgery at the age of 82. The now 84-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner will talk about confronting his own mortality as well as continuing to be a witness to history and even losing his life savings in the Bernard Madoff scandal. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
On Bernie Madoff:
WINFREY: I have to ask you this because we spoke a couple of years ago and you had just been through a stunning experience, of all the stunning things that had happened to you, but when you got the call that you had lost your entire life savings, as well as $15 million dollars of the foundation that you and Marion had worked your whole lives for because of Bernie Madoff…What was the first thing you did? I mean, you just -- that's an unbelievable call to get.
WIESEL: I remember we were out and we came home and it was almost near midnight. The telephone rang. And we were frightened. Midnight.
WIESEL: It was Elisha. Elisha said, first of all, don't worry. Everybody's good in the family. Nothing happened. Nothing. But now sit down.
WINFREY: Sit down. This is your son.
WIESEL: My son. And our son -- then he was a member of our Board. And he actually didn't like the idea that we had placed so much money with Madoff.
WINFREY: Because you'd placed all the money with Madoff.
WIESEL: Yes. He said too much. And so that was a few months earlier before that. And we told him, come on, we know people who did that. If I told you the names, you would be surprised. The most prestigious names in the financial world.
WIESEL: Have given him money. So why shouldn't we? He said, he's in jail. We looked at each other and our reaction was, we have seen worse.
WINFREY: Mm. You and Marion.
WIESEL: Oprah, both she and I have seen worse.
On indifference to the Holocaust:
WINFREY: One of the other great lessons I -- I felt inside myself when we were together at Auschwitz is how passiveness and indifference --
WIESEL: Oh, sure.
WINFREY: -- is actually worse than hatred.
WIESEL: Absolutely. Absolutely.
WINFREY: Can you speak to that for a moment? How being passive and indifferent is actually worse than --
WIESEL: I have dedicated my life not only to fight evil, it's too difficult.
WIESEL: But to fight indifference.
WINFREY: Indifference, yes.
WIESEL: I came out -- I came out with some formula. I began saying that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. The opposite of knowledge is not ignorance but indifference.
WIESEL: The opposite of beauty is not ugliness but indifference to beauty and to ugliness. Indifference enables everything which is bad in life. And, therefore, fight indifference. The idea that the victim should say that nobody cares, that hurts me. Because we had that feeling. Nobody cares.
On the dwindling of living Holocaust survivors:
WINFREY: You've said that Holocaust survivors are becoming an endangered species. Indeed, you all are. Yet you don't fear the memory of the Holocaust will ever be lost.
WIESEL: I'll tell you why. Because, you know, all of us who went through that experience considered ourselves as witnesses. When the last witness will be gone, I don't want to be that one. It's too tragic. What will happen? So on one hand, you could become pessimistic that the last witness -- all the knowledge, all the experience, all the memories will be buried. Then what? So I came up with a theory which I think is valid. To listen to a witness is to become one.
WINFREY: To listen to a witness --
WIESEL: Is to become a witness.
WINFREY: To become a witness.
WIESEL: So therefore those who have listened to us, who have read my books and other survivors' memoirs, we have a lot of witnesses now. And they will protect not only our past, but also their future.
Immediately after Sunday’s interview, OWN will rebroadcast 2006'S “A Special Presentation: Oprah and Elie Wiesel At Auschwitz Death Camp,” from noon-1 p.m.
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