The Last Word: Elie Wiesel

Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, born in Romania in 1928, was 15 years old when he and his family were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz. The experience defined his life. A philosopher, teacher and founder of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, he has dedicated his life to ensuring that the world never forgets the Holocaust--and to championing the cause of the downtrodden everywhere, from Nicaragua's Miskito Indians to the victims of famine and genocide in Africa, apartheid in South Africa and war in the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East. He is the author of more than 40 books of fiction and nonfiction, including "Night," the famous account of his death-camp years, published in 30 languages. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Michael Meyer. Excerpts:

WIESEL: [To] change the world, actually. I am a teacher, a writer. My goal is to sensitize the desensitized, world leaders first among them. To be sensitive to people's pain, fears and hopes. I think that accomplishes quite a lot.

There's a reason for that. It's called politics. It's sad, because to be in politics in ancient times was a great compliment--to work for the city, the republic, some common good. Today, if you say a person is a politician, it's an insult. The problem is the moral dimension. It's missing, in so many quarters. What to do? I don't know. Maybe elected officials should be sent to seminars for a month!

Among others, [Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert and [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas.

Not one on one, but in conversation with other laureates and later at a breakfast hosted by King Abdullah. Very intimate; only eight people. Abbas arrived first, then Olmert. I feared some embarrassment, but no. Their handshake turned into a hug. The ice was broken! We spoke mainly of economies at first, Israel's and Palestine's, then it was all World Cup. The whole table could only talk soccer. Except me. I finally said, "Listen, this is all very nice but a decision must be made now for a second meeting." And it was accepted! Olmert later announced they would meet again in a few weeks for formal talks. I came back more optimistic than I left.

That they will listen to one another, talk as human beings. With hope--not fear of the repercussions. My impression is that Olmert will go far. He'll follow Sharon's footsteps, this man who was so hated. In Europe, they carried banners, Sharon=Hitler. Yet all of a sudden he opposed his own party, his ideology and tried to do what is best.

Unfair ways. Yet great generals occasionally become messengers of peace.

Sharon always told me the answer is security. He said, "Let terrorism stop, and we can have peace." So with Olmert. I think he wants to attain peace. How he does it is for him to decide.

Not with Hamas. If it were not for Hamas, I think we would be very far into a peace process. The main item for them is the destruction of Israel, as it always has been. Hamas has not been able to grow into its new role in government. They had more power simply as Hamas.

I don't know. One thing I do know: I do not want Palestinians and their children to suffer from this policy. So I would first double, triple, quadruple the budget and give it to NGOs to go help every child, every family, every hospital. I would do whatever I could to mobilize funds all over the world. People should not suffer.

America and other civilized countries have a duty to support Abbas at this time. See what happened recently, with the shootings and the assault on Parliament. The two sides have stopped killing Jews; now they're killing each other. I hope they can avoid civil war. Much depends on the July 26 referendum [called by Abbas], which would recognize Israel and accept a two-state peace. I think that it will ultimately topple Hamas.

This man Ahmadinejad is crazy. He is the No. 1 Holocaust denier in the world yet, absurdly, says that there will be one--and he will do it. Of course we should do something to prevent it. But we should use force only if all other means fail.