HOUSTON, TX (May 7, 2012) – More than 1,300 people were on hand Monday, May 7, 2012, as Holocaust Museum Houston honored Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and worldwide voice of conscience Elie Wiesel with its internationally recognized Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award in honor of his tireless, life-long service to stop hatred around the world.
Elie Wiesel, right, receives the award from Honorary Chairs Lester and Sue Smith as Event Chairs Danny and Isabel David look on.
The event, held at the Hilton-Americas Houston, raised more than $1.2 million to support ongoing educational programs of the Museum that promote awareness of the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy against the backdrop of the Holocaust and enable the Museum to continue to offer free general admission to the public year-round.
Wiesel received the award from Honorary Chairs and Presenting Underwriters Lester and Sue Smith, as event chairs Danny and Isabel David looked on.
Among VIPs in attendance were Peter N. Berkowitz, chair of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission; Fred Zeidman, former chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; Mark White, former governor of Texas; Bill White, former mayor of Houston; Arthur Schechter, former American ambassador to the Bahamas; and Meir Shlomo, consul general of Israel to the Southwest.
The crowd included more than 25 Holocaust survivors and many children of survivors. Also seen in the crowd were Lorraine and Ed Wulfe, Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff, Joan and Stanford Alexander, Soraya and Scott McClelland, Kelli Cohen Fein and Martin Fein, Punkin and Walter Hecht, and Regina Rogers.
Wiesel used the occasion to remind those in attendance that "to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all."
"It's not easy, it's not easy to try to believe in moral courage in a world that lacks it, " he acknowledged. "It lacks it because people are afraid, afraid of their own temptations."
Wiesel also spoke of what he called a kind of 11th commandment, "Thou shalt not stand idly by, which means whenever there is an injustice committed against the destiny of a person or of a people, thou shalt not stand idly by. You must speak up. You must defend. You must tell the victims, 'Look, at least you should know that you are not alone, that somebody cares.' "
Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, and he is the author of almost 60 works dealing with Judaism, the Holocaust and the moral responsibility of all people to fight hatred, racism and genocide.
He was born in 1928 in Sighet, Transylvania, which is now part of Romania. He was 15 years old when he and his family were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz. His mother and younger sister perished, his two older sisters survived. Wiesel and his father were later transported to Buchenwald, where his father died shortly before the camp was liberated in April 1945.
After the war, Wiesel studied in Paris and later became a journalist. During an interview with the distinguished French writer, Francois Mauriac, he was persuaded to write about his experiences in the death camps. The result was his internationally acclaimed memoir “Night” (La Nuit), which has since been translated into more than 30 languages.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Wiesel as chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust. In 1980, he became the founding chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
Holocaust Museum Houston created the Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award in 1994 in cooperation with the Johnson family. In 1938, as a young congressman, Johnson stretched the limits of his authority and risked his personal dreams to provide American sanctuary for threatened European Jews. It is because of these acts of moral courage that the Museum proudly named the award in his honor. The award recognizes either a single righteous act or a lifetime of morally courageous behavior.
Previous recipients of the award have included television producer Norman Lear; the Houston community of Holocaust survivors; the late Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered by terrorists in Pakistan; activist Sir Bob Geldof; former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell; former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Jr.; former U.S. Sen. Robert Dole; U.S. Sen. John McCain; filmmaker Steven Spielberg; and former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, among others.
Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.
Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public and is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004. For more information about the Museum, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.