BOSTON--Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel drew parallels between the biblical story of Lot's wife and the modern-day disaster of the Holocaust in a speech last night at Boston University.
Through the use of the Bible and interpretive texts, Wiesel described the sins and subsequent destruction of the town of Sodom, the conversion of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt, and ultimately related this story to his own experiences in Nazi Germany.
Wiesel drew a laugh from the audience of more than 500 when he said early in his remarks that Sodom "did everything to give tourism a bad name."
On a more serious note, Wiesel told of the horrors of the biblical town.
"It was possible to enter the city but not to leave it. The Sodomites would lay visitors on a bed. If they were too big, their bodies would be mutilated until they fit. If they were too small, their bodies would be stretched. The Sodomites claimed it was for the tourists' own good."
Wiesel explained that total destruction was the punishment for Sodom's inhabitants.
Wiesel, a professor of philosophy at B.U., then raised various questions about Sodom that were also relevent to the Holocaust.
"Where was justice, divine justice? Why did one survive when many others didn't?" he asked.
And finally, he asked, why was Lot's wife punished with death for looking back on the destroyed city?
He concluded that collective punishment is regrettably compatible with Jewish tradition.
Wiesel then compared Lot's family's situation with that of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
"Its flames remind us of a recent past," Wiesel said.
According to Wiesel's interpretation of the story told in the Genesis. Lot's wife looked back because of a maternal instinct. Two of her daughters were in the city, and she could not leave them without a last look.
Lot's other daughters did not look back and die because they were determined to continue the Jewish race, Wiesel said.
Wiesel then briefly shared his own thoughts on God and collective punishment.
"I like to think that when a victim feels pain, God listens. But the divine meaning of justice eludes its victims," he said.
Wiesel concluded his comparison of the destruction of Sodom and the Holocaust with a lesson for today's society.
"At times we must look back and run the risk of being turned into a statue," Wiesel said.