Elie Wiesel, world-renowned author, intellectual and Nobel laureate, received the Presidential Medal of Distinction from President Shimon Peres Monday in a ceremony in New York, for his work commemorating the Holocaust and promoting tolerance in the world.
“The Holocaust taught us that killing isn’t done just with guns and weapons, but also with apathy, and you, Elie, are saving the world from that apathy,” Peres told Wiesel during the award presentation.
“You are waving the flag of humanity, preventing bloodshed and challenging racism and anti-Semitism, as well as preventing war,” he said. “You personally went through the most atrocious horrors of humanity, and as a Holocaust survivor you chose to dedicate your life to deliver the message — never again.”
Wiesel thanked the president, and responded, “Israel is in the center of my life, and even though I don’t live in Israel, Israel lives within me. I now see myself as an honorary Israeli. Life is composed of moments, not only years, and this moment is worth an entire life.”
Wiesel survived the Holocaust, including Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and has been honored across the world for his work commemorating the tragedy. In the US, he has been granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Honor.
In September, it was announced that Peres would be granting the medal to Wiesel and Hollywood director Steven Spielberg.
Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction is comparable to France’s Legion of Honor or the Order of Canada. Previous winners include US President Barack Obama, former president Bill Clinton, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, conductor Zubin Mehta and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.
The award “is conferred upon private individuals and organizations that have made unique and outstanding contributions to tikkun olam (bettering the world), Israeli society and the State of Israel’s image around the world, and which constitute examples of initiative, innovation, creativity and vision,” according to a statement released by Peres’s office.
Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, attended the ceremony, as did Israel’s consul general in New York, Ido Aharoni.
JTA contributed to this report.