I attended a 92Y lecture Sunday night featuring Nobel Prize winners Eric Kandel and Elie Wiesel. Kandel is best known for his research on “the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons,” and Wiesel as a Holocaust survivor, journalist and novelist. If you don’t know Elie Wiesel, take the time to learn about him. You will not regret it.
The basis of the discussion was memory: how we remember, why we remember and what we remember. Both Kandel and Wiesel had experiences in World War II that shaped who they became and what they remembered—Kandel in Vienna and Wiesel in concentration camps.
I had never heard Wiesel speak before, though I had read his most famous book “Night” when I was growing up and been incredibly moved. Put simply, he is poetic. Everything he said felt like a golden nugget of knowledge that I needed to ingrain in my brain and never forget.
It felt inappropriate to live tweet, but I wanted to make sure I shared some of his wisdom because I truly believe inspiration and discussion can be drawn from his words. So here goes:
“Life is not made up of years but of moments. A sum of moments make up my destiny.”
“What happens when memory is too much?”
“Can memory enter imagination and still maintain its purity?”
“Destiny is almost defined by the privileged moments we encounter.”
“It’s not that I want to live in my past, it’s that I want my past to live in me.”
“I never want to forget. Anything but forgetting.”
“I compare everything to a book. Every day you tear out a page and another page. At the end you are left with no pages and only the cover.”
[On being told to forget his experience during the Holocaust]: “The problem after the war wasn’t that survivors couldn’t speak, it was that people did not want to hear.”
[When asked when he moved from victim to leader]: “I am not a leader. I am neither. I am not a victim. If I had to define myself, I’d say I a a witness, a writer and a teacher.”
[On finding religion, which he said helped him move on after the Holocaust]: “It’s not that I felt better, it’s that I felt closer to truth.”
[On his and Kandel’s work]: “What we are doing is a celebration of memory.”
[On Alzheimers]: “I think it is not a disease, it is a curse.”
[On his love of learning]: “In my class, if I am not the best teacher, i am the best student. I am always learning”
“What could replace memory? Nothing. If there’s one part of human nature that has no substitute, it’s memory. It is my religion. I want it to bring people together, not tear them apart.”