Since 1995, Holocaust Museum Houston has presented an annual award to recognize acts of great moral courage. It’s a rare distinction, all the more so because it’s one of the few awards known to bear the name of Lyndon Johnson.
As a young member of Congress, Johnson helped hundreds of Jews flee Nazi persecution and find sanctuary in Texas. The future president repeatedly broke U.S. immigration law, risking his political career and his freedom.
Recipients of the Johnson Award have ranged from Senator John McCain to Stephen Spielberg. But there’s one honoree the museum has had its sights on from the beginning.
“Elie Wiesel is perhaps the most important voice of our time.”
Danny David is co-chair of this year’s awards ceremony.
“It is certainly not an oversight. It’s taken us some incredible luck with scheduling to insure his availability to come and accept the award in person.”
Wiesel has written dozens of books on the costs of racism and hatred. The most famous of these, Night, describes how he lost his entire family at Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a teenager.
“If there is one word that defines the threat, it’s fanaticism. Political fanaticism is as dangerous as religious fanaticism. And usually fanatics deal with, ultimately they deal with hatred, which they produce. And hatred, of course, if it threatens a society, it is dangerous. Hate can become contagious, just as a disease.”
Wiesel has spoken out against intolerance the world over, but his most basic concern is the survival of the Jewish people. The March attack on a Jewish day school in Toulouse, France that left a rabbi and three children dead was only the most recent example of a surge in anti-Semitism that has been building for years.
“There is something about anti-Semitism which defies logic and defies reason. One thing is simple: If Auschwitz couldn’t cure the world of anti-Semitism, what can and what will?”
Wiesel is now in his eighties and continues to spread his message in print and in person. But the numbers of Holocaust survivors are dwindling. A recent Israeli study found that the last may be gone within fifteen years. For Danny David of the Holocaust Museum, that makes Wiesel’s message all the more pressing.
“We have a moral obligation to listen to what the survivors say and to carry it forward to the next generation, so that we don’t run a risk of having this incredible human tragedy becoming diluted -- or perhaps worse forgotten -- at a time when the need to understand the dangers of intolerance and the evil of hatred are more significant now than ever before perhaps.”