Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Back to Opinion

When I recall my father Elie Wiesel, my shame about these Olympics only deepens

(JTA) — On Friday my world was shaken. It hit me, as though it were a fresh wound: My father, Elie Wiesel, was really gone.

It hurt terribly when he died over five years ago, on July 2, 2016. But I also found peace and awakening as I grieved. I had this sense from the very moment he passed that he would be with me always. Through his dreams for me, I felt that as long as I lived, he would too — as would my ancestors.

This feeling deepened over the years that followed. My year of Mourner’s Kaddish ended and I still found myself drawn to Shabbat peace, to morning tefillin, to the intentionality of a minyan gathered to pray, to the stories of our people in ancient texts. I felt the wholeness of history, of the chain of which he had always wanted me to feel a crucial part, which he so keenly felt himself. And although I miss him daily, I unfailingly find that thinking of him makes my footsteps feel sure.

But on Friday I had to stop and catch my breath as I realized the depth of my loss, our loss.

Because that day was the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, and millions were tuning in to the opening ceremony. Most of the world didn’t seem to know, or care, that the host country is hosting a pageant of “peace and friendship” while simultaneously terrorizing its Uyghur minority.

The Chinese government’s systematic oppression of the Uyghurs, a Muslim group in northwest China, is not the Holocaust. But although we may not have seen this particular movie, we know the genre.

I have heard the painful testimony of Uyghur dissidents, who manage to get the word out despite a media clampdown that makes it almost impossible for the Western press to report on the facts. Forced internment camps target people for thought crimes and racial affiliation. Medical data suggests that forced sterilizations are taking place among this targeted racial group. Families have been forcibly separated and threatened into silence.

Just like in 1936, the International Olympic Committee is unwilling to push the issue. And our community is mostly silent.

I saw 100 or 200 brave souls rally on a rainy Thursday last week in Times Square. In the gray neon light, the young leaders called on each other and passersby via megaphones whose batteries could not keep up with the urgency of the message: Turn off the Olympics, and close the concentration camps in Xinjiang.

It should have been the whole city turning up to honor their message.

I know now that we have failed my father in this regard. He did not fail us. He spoke of how he always felt he had to answer to the dead: Did he do enough? And yes. He did.

He was there to speak up against atrocities in Darfur, Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda. He tried with everything he had to tell us. And all the words he spoke and wrote could not change the fact that five years after his death, 1 million people are reportedly in concentration camps, because of their race and religion, in the grip of a totalitarian regime — a regime honored to host the world’s nations, on a global television platform that packages sports with advertising.

Today’s culture of workplace activism is highly developed. In corporations and small businesses across the United States, Black Americans and their allies, for one, showed with emotion how cries against police brutality could be heard in board rooms and executive suites.

But are men and women of conscience reaching out to their managers at the corporations that sponsor the Olympics? Are voices inside corporate America respectfully but insistently calling for company conversations about their responsibility when they hear survivors’ reports of genocide on the part of the Chinese government? If they are, they are not making themselves heard.

There are brave leaders, like Steve Simon of the Women’s Tennis Association, who canceled a lucrative tournament in China when the WTA’s demands for player Peng Shuai’s safety and freedom went unanswered. Natan Sharansky and Bernard Henry-Levi, two leading Jewish intellectuals, took out an ad in the New York Times urging a protest of the Beijing Olympics; Jewish organizations across the denominational spectrum have spoken up for the Uyghurs; and Jewish World Watch is trying generate widespread action around the issue.

But they are still too few. I fear that China’s state-sponsored capitalism has silenced us through our greed.

My father believed passionately that speaking up mattered, especially to the victims.

Have I, blessed to live in this country which stands for freedom, done enough?

“Shame on Xi Jinping,” shouted the determined young people in Times Square on Thursday night.

And I think: Shame on me, if we can’t find some way to help. Shame on us.


The post My father Elie Wiesel would have been ashamed of these Olympics appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.