Elie Wiesel said he has spent his entire adult life fighting indifference.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner and author of 57 books gave a speech on Sunday that centered on the topic and how people should avoid it.
He spoke to a packed crowd of 1,400 at Memorial Hall, with about 400 additional viewers watching from Hamilton Hall, which also sold out.
Wiesel opened the speech with his favorite Bible verse, “Thou shalt not stand idly by,” a maxim that he said governed all of his activities.
“Nothing good can come out of indifference,” he said. “In fact, nothing can come out of indifference.”
Eli Evans, the founding chair of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies, introduced Wiesel as a “chronicler of hope” whose “aim is to awaken our conscience.”
Evans likened Wiesel’s stories to his children and the people who listen to them as his descendants.
Wiesel discussed the Holocaust as an example of the potential devastation that inaction can breed.
Wiesel and his family were deported to Auschwitz when he was 15 years old.
During the Holocaust, Wiesel’s mother, younger sister and father died, an experience he recounted in his book “Night.”
He said global indifference at the time contributed to the carnage of the Holocaust.
“If they had raised their voices, then I’m convinced many of thousands would have been saved,” he said.
Wiesel urged the audience to remember the lessons from his generation and learn from the past in order to better the future.
“That is why we cling to our shield, which is memory,” he said. “Memory is the best shield, the best tool to fight indifference.”
North Carolina Hillel and the Douglass Hunt Lecture Series of the Carolina Seminars presented the event.
Campus organizations and some academic departments helped fund the event, which cost $50,000, said Sheila Katz, assistant director for Jewish student life for N.C. Hillel.
Wiesel stressed the importance of using modern technology to disperse knowledge and decrease indifference.
Fielder Valone, a senior and the student representative for the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies board, echoed the sentiment.
“It’s not just a matter of staying informed,” Valone said. “It’s a matter of staying proactively informed. Because we can access information with a simple keystroke, we can also separate ourselves with that same keystroke.”
Wiesel’s speech was the opening event for a campaign titled “Against Indifference.”
The campaign will include a four-part series of discussions, which begin on Oct. 28.
“What we’re hoping to do is continue the conversation that Elie Wiesel may have sparked and to engage the campus in issues related to indifference,” said Shruti Shah, a co-chairwoman of UNC Hillel’s “Against Indifference” committee.
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