Mark Chmiel, Author . Temple Univ. $34.50 (288p) ISBN 978-1-56639-857-2

Ever since he electrified the world with Night, his memoir of a young Jewish boy's suffering and loss of innocence in Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel has testified continually to the horrors of the Holocaust and insisted upon the power of society's collective memory as a force against recurrences of such events. Yet, apart from a few appreciative, almost hagiographical, studies (Robert McAfee Brown's Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity and Harry James Cargas's Responses to Elie Wiesel), no biography or critical study of Wiesel's life and work has appeared to date. Chmiel, who teaches (Christian) theology at St. Louis University and Webster University, offers the first serious critique of this modern-day Jewish prophet's life and work. Wiesel publicly proclaims solidarity with Jews who died in the Holocaust as a model of solidarity with victims of other oppressive regimes. But Chmiel contends that Wiesel's strong moral stance against victimization devolves into ambivalence, at best, when confronted with Palestinian victims of Israeli violence or victims of brutal Third World governments supported by the United States. Such ambivalence, Chmiel argues, arises in large part from Wiesel's resistance to political discourse in favor of moral statements. Rather than directly challenging American support of repressive governments, Wiesel cannily acts as a prophet whose moral pronouncements are validated by his experience as a Holocaust survivor. Thus, to Chmiel, in spite of his silence in the face of oppression, Wiesel's voice encourages a "dangerous remembrance" of the Holocaust in collective cultural memory that leads to resistance and solidarity. Chmiel's profile of Wiesel provides a stirring portrait of the role of the public intellectual in contemporary America. (May)

Reviewed on: 05/07/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
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