Elie Wiesel, the boy from Taverny

Some fifty years have passed since that memorable evening when, as a participating author, I was invited to attend a private reception to honor the Keynote speaker at a Florida Book Event.

Could the man, who was to address us, have been one of the youngsters in my charge when as a volunteer social worker with concentration camp survivors in Europe, I had worked in Taverny (France) in one of the homes which the relief organization called O.S.E. (Oeuvre De Secours Aux Enfants) housed orphaned Jewish children.

So distinguished a man.  So many important people were crowded around him.  I nervously inched my way forward. I had to ask.  My throat was dry.  How could I be heard above the din. To attract his attention I spoke up in French.   Everyone stopped talking.

I stuttered, “I believe you were an O.S.E. youngster – I was an O.S.E. volunteer, the last home I worked in was Taverny.  May I ask please – which home were you in? ”

His eyes, two dark pools of a thousand anguished memories, met my gaze.  They spoke of a tortured soul who could never express all the pain he had suffered.

“Taverny” he said.

My heart skipped a beat.  Tears stung my eyes. I wanted to ask a dozen questions.   But what matter now?

A shattered life so magnificently rebuilt.  This boy from Taverny was now a giant amongst men.   His mighty pen, his gentle voice, his impassioned plea for tolerance and understanding had humbled Leaders of Nations and shamed the conscience of the world.

His volume of work had been praised world – wide.  I had read many of his words,  His voice now I had heard.  All had left an indelible mark upon a soul still vulnerable after fifty years.

Elie Wiesel’s hand was warm and strong as he grasped my outstretched palm.   His few personal words to me were quite beautiful.   His fleeting smile lit up my little world.

Sabina Shalom, author of “A Marriage Sabbatical,” lives in Bethesda.

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