Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel's Classroom

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  2018


Ariel Burger’s new memoir, a thoughtful study of Elie Wiesel’s lessons and teachings, will be accessible both to readers familiar with and new to the famous writer’s work. Burger first met Wiesel as a teenager; one of the great pleasures of the book is following Burger as he grows intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally, and watching his relationship with Wiesel evolve from hero worship to mutual respect. It’s a relationship that demonstrates the power of the teacher-student connection over time.

Most of the book focuses on Wiesel as a teacher, with Burger sharing anecdotes from the classes he attended as a graduate student while working as Wiesel’s teaching assistant. Burger’s writing and storytelling abilities showcase his attention to detail and sensitivity to the impact of the class material on students’ thinking.

Burger’s book is a testament to Wiesel’s power to shape the thoughts and principles of a generation. It grants readers greater insight into the influences that formed the basis of Wiesel’s own beliefs and writing. It is an immensely hopeful book, underscoring how much more richly we can experience our humanity because of Wiesel’s work. Burger entreats readers to remember his mentor—that it is not enough to just be mindful of the existence of good and evil. Wiesel, as both a writer and a teacher, sought to raise people’s consciousness and spur them to act; Burger’s yearning to follow in Wiesel’s footsteps will resonate with many readers.

A final highlight of the book is the recommended reading list, which includes books that are central to the discussions in specific chapters as well as those that were a consistent part of Wiesel’s teaching. The list gives readers the opportunity to engage further with Wiesel’s ideas.

Burger has created a vehicle by which the dialogues and discussions of Wiesel’s classroom can expand far beyond those walls for years to come. More than a list of books or a series of reminiscences, Burger has provided his readers with an ultimate syllabus.

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