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Had we been warned, many of us would not have gone to Auschwitz, says survivor

January 27th, 2015
04:31 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

On the day the world marked seventy years since the liberation of Auschwitz, survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that had many Hungarian Jews been warned about the death camp, they would never have gone there in the first place.

“[In] 1944 we didn’t know Auschwitz existed. Had we known, believe me, had Roosevelt, had Churchill, on the radio stations turned to Hungarian Jews saying ‘Hungarian Jews, don’t go to the train, because the trains will lead you to Auschwitz,’ people – many of us would not have gone.

“Many wouldn’t have believed, perhaps, but wouldn’t have gone, but nobody warned us, and nobody came to our help.”

Born in Romania, Wiesel was fifteen when he was sent to Auschwitz in Poland with his family in 1944.

“It happened late in the war, Germany had already lost the war. In 1944, spring 1944, and yet they still had enough resources, and of course the will, the desire, the determination to kill the Jewish people.”

“To this day I don’t understand it, it wasn’t even in their own self-interest, in their own national interest. Why did they do that? To me it remains a mystery.”

The writer was later moved and ultimately freed from Buchenwald in 1945. Of his relatives, only he and two of his sisters survived.

Wiesel told Amanpour that Auschwitz is “to this day, a source of shock and astonishment.”

World leaders and hundreds of survivors gathered on Tuesday at Auschwitz to mark the seventieth anniversary since the death camp's liberation by Soviet troops.

“Auschwitz is a symbol of the twentieth century, with all the great victories that the humanity has recorded in the sciences, and literature, and philosophy, at the same time there’s also Auschwitz.”

Of the six million Jews that were killed by the Nazis during World War II, over one million people, most European Jews, died at Auschwitz. They were gassed, shot, hanged and burned.

Wiesel broke his silence on his Holocaust experience ten years after the liberation with the acclaimed memoir “Night”, which has been translated into thirty languages and has sold millions of copies since its publication.

The Nobel peace laureate, who has since written extensively about the horror, said he knew he’d have to write at some point but was afraid he wouldn’t be able to find the words.

“I’m not sure, by the way, that I did find them. Maybe there are no words for what happened. Maybe somehow, the Germans… the cruel killers have succeeded at least in one way, at least that it deprived us, the victims, of finding the proper language of saying what they had done to us, because there are no words for it.”

When he sees what is happening in the world today, Amanpour asked, does he think lessons have been learned?

“Some lessons have been learned, which means that whenever a real atrocity occurs, there are voices being raised against them, the people are more sensitive than before. Does it mean there is no evil in the world? Of course there is still some evil, somewhere, in this world of ours.”

“Strangely,” he concluded, “we must say that history is going through a good period. Nazism is gone, Communism is gone, so what is there today that should actually worry us? Simply because there are people who suffer in the world and I believe that we must be aware of their suffering.”

Click above to watch the full interview.

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Germany • Latest Episode • War Crimes
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