"I confess to you that I don't have answers to my questions," said the author to the more than 1,700 people in the sanctuary of the Conservative Temple Sinai in Dresher. "I don't understand why the world was silent."
That silence still haunts this man, who urged the audience to take responsibility and speak out when it comes to international affairs that threaten others' freedom. He noted that if the world had truly understood the effects of hatred and anti-Semitism – factors that led to the horrors of the Holocaust – atrocities in such places as Kosovo and now Darfur would never have occurred.
"I share my abhorrence for anything racist," he said. "As a Jew, I say a Jew is neither superior or inferior to anybody. Anyone who has shamed another because of their color or nationality is guilty in the name of God."
Wiesel's experiences in the labor camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald are chronicled in his book Night, currently No. 2 on the New York Times' paperback best-seller list. It just so happens to be the current selection for the popular book club run by celebrity Oprah Winfrey.
In his 20 minutes or so at the podium, Wiesel did not touch on his experiences as a teen during the Holocaust, something that surprised 13-year-old Gabrielle Field, who before the event said she was interested in hearing a firsthand account of life during World War II.
While she noted that she's read many of books on the subject, she and others of her generation have had limited opportunity to hear people who actually lived through the war tell their tales. Field may not have heard what she expected, but after the event, she and her mother did not seem at all disappointed by Wiesel's words.
"Because there were so many young people in the audience -and it's important for them to hear a survivor speak – I would have loved for him to bring up his experiences," said Judi Field of Dresher. "But that wasn't his message. He highlighted international fanatics and our responsibility to be a watchdog. We can't be silent."
Barry Bressler, also of Dresher, echoed a similar sentiment.
"I was impressed that in the end, he had a message of hope for the youth," attested Bressler. "You don't want to think all there is is genocide and anti-Semitism, and a black future."
In preparation for the evening, Temple Sinai held several events sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. In the past several weeks, students and adults attended film screenings of "Paper Clips," a documentary about a rural Tennessee middle-school's project to highlight the enormity of those killed in the Holocaust, and "Only a Girl," the true story of a Polish woman who risked her life to save Jews.
In addition, Federation sponsored an essay contest for middle- and high school students, in which they answered questions about either the novel Night or Wiesel's 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
Winners of the contest were awarded tickets to the sold-out event. Two-hundred-and-five students entered the contest, and 56 were declared winners.
With his overarching message being one of hope, Wiesel commented that the evening's attendance by young people – those who came with their parents, those who were lucky enough to garner a free ticket, even those who sang beforehand as part of the choir – as well as the presence of other clergymen from the area gave him reason to believe in just that.
Though Wiesel stressed that he still had so many unanswered questions, he did offer a mechanism that helps him cope with the experiences that befell him.
"I follow in the tradition of my ancestors," he began.
"We may question the master. We may argue with the judge of all judges," continued Wiesel.
"But after each question, we must say, 'Blessed art Thou for bringing us together.' "