PARIS (JTA) — Elie Wiesel answered questions from French high schoolers in honor of his 80th birthday.
“All this is a surprise, all this touches me a lot," the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner told a crowd of students Nov. 13 who wished him a belated happy birthday before talking about Holocaust commemoration.
Wiesel, who was born Sept. 30, 1928 in Romania, spent the first 10 years after World War II in France.
The event organized by Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants, or OSE, was co-run by the City Council as part of an annual program to teach youth about the Holocaust through visits to former concentration camps.
"You are now witnesses," Wiesel said, "because whoever listens to a witness becomes one in turn."
His candor and eloquence visibly captivated the religiously mixed crowd, mostly from neighboring Paris suburbs.
Pierre Marie Gandillot, 17, said that hearing Wiesel speak would help him talk to "extremists" who might be offensive about the Holocaust.
"What they say will have be like an echo now of what we talked about here," he said. Gandillot also noted that even at 80, "You can feel he’s still got all his energy."
The OSE was responsible for housing Wiesel at 16 in France after he was liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. Years later he moved to the United States and became a citizen.
Other events commemorating Wiesel’s birthday on Nov. 13 included a gala to raise money for needy children and the naming of an Elie Wiesel House for Children in a northern Paris suburb. Wiesel was among some 400 Holocaust orphans sheltered in the existing "chateau," as it was called, when they were liberated from Nazi camps.