Special Presentation: Elie Wiesel on the Concept of the Hero

Photo by Fred Sway granted by Boston University
Photo by Fred Sway granted by Boston University

In my travels around the Net, I occasionally stumble onto gems not seen in the average Joe’s walk through the meandering wood that is YouTube or StumbleUpon or Larry’s laptop. But today I have found one such indispensable and incorruptible treasure. The following is an essay written by Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winning author Elie Wiesel on his particular hesitation in calling anyone a hero. In it he makes the case that heroes are indeed rare among the norms and various strata of societies. Yet, so often, the heroes’ act comes to him not from his being unafraid, but by his being compelled by a greater good during bouts with greatest evil. Still Wiesel says, he is troubled by the whole notion of the hero. Here in depth he explains why.

by Elie Wiesel
Web Source: http://www.myhero.com/myhero/hero.asp?hero=Wiesel_Concept_bk06

I am deeply skeptical about the very concept of the hero for many reasons and I am uncomfortable with what happens in societies where heroes are worshipped. As Goethe said, “blessed is the nation that doesn’t need them.”

To call someone a hero is to give them tremendous power. Certainly that power may be used for good, but it may also be used to destroy individuals.

Which societies have proven to be the most fertile fields for the creation of heroes, and have devised the most compelling reasons for hero worship? Dictatorships. Stalin and Hitler were worshipped as gods by millions. It was idolatry, or worse, blind faith. Anyone who questioned the gods, knew too much, or rebelled in any way was finished.

Even if we do not worship our heroes, they may cow us. It takes a certain amount of confidence and courage to say, “I can do something. I can change this and make a difference.” But if you, as a writer think, “What are my words next to those of my hero, Shakespeare?” then something is lost for those who need your help and your voice. Excessive humility is no virtue if it prevents us from acting.

So we need to be very careful of those we put on a pedestal, and choose only those who embody those qualities that reflect the very best of human nature. But even that is a dangerous game. What do we do with a hero who has done something less than heroic? None of our forefathers was perfect. Moses is probably the single most important figure in the Bible besides Abraham. He was a teacher, the leader of the first liberation army, a legislator. Without him, there is no Jewish religion at all. Yet of the many things he is called in the Bible, he is never called a hero, perhaps because he did not always behave heroically. He began his public career by killing an Egyptian; later, he failed to identify himself as a Jew. For these reasons and others, he is prevented from entering the Promised Land with the people he has led there. Is Moses a hero?

Is a hero a hero twenty-four hours a day, no matter what? Is he a hero when he orders his breakfast from a waiter? Is he a hero when he eats it? What about a person who is not a hero, but who has a heroic moment? In the Bible, God says “there are just men for life and there are also just men for an hour.” Is a just man for an hour a hero? The definition itself and the question of who deserves the title are slippery at best.

I do believe in the heroic act, even in the heroic moment. There are different heroisms for different moments in time. Sometimes just to make a child smile is an act of heroism.

In my tradition, a hero is someone who understands his or her own condition and limitations and, despite them, says, “I am not alone in the world. There is somebody else out there, and I want that person to benefit from my sacrifice and self-control.” This is why one of the most heroic things you can do is to surmount anger, and why my definition of heroism is certainly not the Greek one, which has more to do with excelling in battle and besting one’s enemies.

My heroes are those who stand up to false heroes. If I had to offer a personal definition of the word, it would be someone who dares to speak the truth to power. I think of the solitary man in Tiananmen Square, who stood in front of a column of tanks as they rolled in to quash a peaceful protest, and stopped them with his bare hands. In that moment, he was standing up against the entire Chinese Communist Party. I think of the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra, who sat in the crater formed by a mortar shell blast and played for twenty-two days–one day to commemorate each one of his neighbors killed in a bread line on the same spot–while all around him, bullets whistled and bombs dropped. Those people were heroes.

Maybe heroes can simply be those people who inspire us to become better than we are. In that case, I find my heroes among my friends, family, and teachers. My mother and father’s respect and love for learning had a great influence on me, and my son’s generosity and humility continue to inspire me.

It was my grandfather who allowed me–who obliged me–to love life, to assume it as a Jew, and indeed to celebrate it for the Jewish people. He led a perfectly balanced life. He knew how to work the land, impose respect on tavern drunks, and break recalcitrant horses, but he was also devoted to his quest for the sacred. He told wonderful stories of miracle makers, of unhappy princes, and righteous men in disguise.

When I was a child, my heroes were always anonymous wanderers. They experienced the wonder of the wider world and brought it to me in my small village. These men were masters. A master must give himself over to total anonymity, dependent on the goodness of strangers, never sleeping or eating in the same place twice. Someone who wanders this way is a citizen of the world. The universe is his neighborhood. It is a concept that resonates with me to this day.

In fact, it is to one of those wanderers that I owe my constant drive to question, my pursuit of the mystery that lies within knowledge and the darkness hidden within light. I would not be the man, the Jew, I am today, if a disconcerting vagabond–an anti-hero–had not accosted me on the street in Paris one day to tell me I knew nothing. This was my teacher Shushani Rosenbaum. He spoke thirty languages, and there wasn’t a country he hadn’t visited. He looked like a beggar.

I was his best student, so he tried to destroy my faith by demonstrating the fragility of it. This was his chosen role: the troublemaker, the agitator. I gave him my reason and my will, and he shook my inner peace, destroyed everything I felt to be certain. Then he built me back up with words that banished distance and obstacles. Learning this way was a profoundly disturbing experience, but a life-changing one. I have never stopped questioning and challenging what I believe to be true. I speak of him as a disciple speaks of his master, with tremendous gratitude, and his is the advice I give to young people, as well: “Always question.”

In Hebrew, there is no word for hero, but there is one that comes close, based on the word for justice: tzaddik. A tzaddik is a “righteous man,” someone who overcomes his instincts. In the ancient texts, this would mean sexual instinct, the life force, but of course it can be extended to all the emotions connected to that force: jealousy, envy, ambition, the desire to hurt someone else–anything, essentially, that you want to do very much.

There is a story about a tzaddik that says a great deal to me about the character of the true hero. This man came to Sodom to preach against lies, thievery, violence, and indifference. No one listened, but he would not stop preaching. Finally someone asked him, “Why do you continue when you see that it is of no use?” He said, “I must keep speaking out. In the beginning, I thought I had to shout to change them. Now I know I must shout so that they cannot change me.”

Written by Elie Wiesel

Going Postal offers Heroes’ quickest webisode series to date

Now, I know how everybody loves the mail to be quick but… daaaaaaaang! Going Postal offers new insight into the term “post-haste” with three episodes of hunt, (“A Nifty Trick”) chase, (“The House Guest”) and capture (“Let’s Talk”) so fast and furious that they seen to appropriately embody main character the campily named Echo DeMille’s ability to create sonic boom waves with his voice. Seeing as I can’t give you a review without giving away the whole dog-and-pony whirlwind, you’ll have to see for yourself at http://www.nbc.com/Heroes/video/webisodes/#vid=275540

In other news NBC reports that Heroes has won a People’ Choice Award for Best Sci-Fi Series. I don’t think any pre-cogs were need to foresee that one.

I’ll be back periodically throughout the week as new shows become available. See you then!

The Hilarious Zeroes Webseries Parody

A couple of weeks ago, I theorized a handful of totally useless and certifiably insane powers like being able to babysit the baby Jesus and the wonderfully stupid ability to turn every meal into breakfast; and my personal favorite the ability to work on federal holidays. But the Heroes creators have apparently been up nights scanning my frontal lobes for ideas while I’m asleep because their new webseries Zeroes is quite blaringly all of my style and a bag of hot, hot, Chilean potato chips! It pits unsuspecting dweebs and their inane powers against all the other folks who just don’t give sh***. Powers include the ability to kick one’s self repeatedly in the back of the head, copy talking four year-old style; and one guy can in fact can paint the future with a few minor setbacks like that fact his paintings are of stick figures and worse his prophetic visions equate to trivial occurrences such as the ever-popular “save a man about to fall into a birthday cake” routine. Oh, the majesty!

Watch Zereos at http://www.nbc.com/Heroes/video/clips/zeroes-episode-one/165680/

Trivia returns this weekend…. Stay tuned!

The Recruit: “The Truth Within”

To watch before you read, go to http://www.nbc.com/Heroes/The-Recruit/


Mills has now been released and goes home to reveal that she hid the formula in and open wound in her shoulder. She then pulls it out and goes on her merry way only to find Angela outside he door to confront her deception and to snatch her back to “the facility”  with a surprise twist so good that it shall not be revealed here!


There’s a good progression of suspense about Mills’ future. Her gritty and undaunted demeanor is full of the character necessary to make a great hero. But only time will tell the fate of Rachel Mills.

Heroes’ graphic novel episodes 51-117 now online!

In the grand tradition of growling, rabid 80s monster truck rally announcers, “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday” is your day to catch up on every twist, turn and power play as Primatech and Pinehurst’s favorite rejects have the chance to become tomorrow’s heroes in this graphic novel feast; and hey… try not to be a glutton, will ya? Your little brother might want to watch too!


Knox’s journey explored through latest microseries

Knox was arguably one of the more uniquely gifted “heroes” of them all. A street thug who “got strong off of other people’s fear,” he was egotistical to say the least. Unfortunately he was killed during the whole Season Three Pinehurst debacle. But hanks to the magic of the webisode, his journey to power is backstoried in the microseries Hard Knox. The story a broken into four chapters in which Knox is transitioned from a thug lackey to the head hancho. Rather than break down each short piece, it would be much more prudent to tell you to just watch and enjoy Hard Knox.

Watch at http://www.nbc.com/Heroes/video/clips/hard-knox-chapter-1-choices/895021/

The Recruit: “Do What You Have to Do” and “Day of Reckoning”

To watch berfore you read go to http://www.nbc.com/Heroes/video/webisodes/the-recruit/#vid=883401


“Do What You Have to Do”

As uneventful as this three-minute blip was there was on saving grace. The viewer finds Mills back in the same interrogation room with Angela; and through Angela’s powers of coercion also that Mills had killed one of her fellow marines. She tells Angela that after seeing what the formula did to the marine, she destroyed it. But the flashback tells other wise as Mills takes half a vile back with her – “Wrong answer,” barks Angela. She ain’t buyin’ it.

“Day of Reckoning”

Angela begins telling Mills about her boys who she love dearly and then proceed to get Mills to tell her about Mill’s mother’s suicide. Angela’s monologue tells Mills of her Mother’s powers. She tell Mills she can be difference, that she can still make a difference. The flashback then shows Mills escape through a locked door by teleportation – though unlike than Hiro, she only appears to move through physical space and not time and also unlike him, she appears to have no aspirations to save the world at all.


These gets my a thumbs down. Couldn’t this have been attached to a longer episode? These episodes seem to have been split for no other reason than to milk a few more advertising dollars. It’s as if a person were to break up a chapter in a book every two pages just because. One up-side however is that Mills’ character does seem more developed and quite a bit more tortured than since she was introduced, which in most cases moves a story rather well.

Webisode weekend now starting this Friday afternoon at 4 EST (Updated 1/8/09)

Yes that’s right! As you’re humble blogger I’m making up for recent absences over the holiday break with a recap of all the major webisode happenings with my reviews and insights into the stories that make the Heroes geek community go ’round. Until then, here’s a look at the recent making of Heroes: The Recruit:

Also since I’ve neglected the comic strip and the magazine which is now in it’s tenth edition, I’ll shall take a shot at reviewing those as well in 2009!

See you Friday night!

Heroic Predictions for the New Year (Updated 1/5/09)

Thursday is usually trivia day on this blog, but since today is New Year’s Day, it is only logical that I should make a few predictions about Heroes’ Season Four.

The final episode of Season Three ended with a short lead-in to Season Four. Nathan has a cool, James Bond-like “shaken a bit but not too stirred” demeanor about him as he discusses his plans with a person later revealed to be the President) to round up the “special” ones in Quantanimo Bay fashion to position Nathan as the next big hero in the world and for him to easily gain the US presidency.

Theory: Nathan is the Anti-Peter

In the final moments of Season Three, Peter shows selfless compassion to his less-than- charitable big brother as he uses the serum to restore his ability to fly and save Nathan from the exploding Pinehurst building. When Nathan angrily asks Peter why has saved him to which Peter responds with conviction, “Because you’re my brother and I love you.” Nathan than replies with “I wouldn’t have done the same thing.

I’m not certain of the writers’ intentions but as someone who has studied the Bible and the Book of Revelation, this dynamic between the two has a Christ-Anti-Chirst Armeggedon-starting feel to it. In Revelation, the Anti-Chris,t like Nathan is a charismatic leader of the world whose goals seem noble on a surface level, but whose actual intention is dictatorship through vilifying and criminalizing the other side. As with the Revelation scenario, Nathan is all these things, charismatic, power-loving and domineering to the point he is able to manipulate the President. Recall also that he has said he felt called by God to save the world, but has now become as evil as his father.

Theory: Sylar isn’t dead and he will join Nathan.

When Season Three ended. Claire has just jammed a piece glass through a certain part of Sylar’s brain and killed him – or did she? The same technique was used on Peter in a previous episode and Claire was able to save him by pulling the glass out. Sylar in his typical way, will seek revenge on Claire, Angela and the others by joining with Nathan and the President to stop the “special” ones.

Check back here over the weekend for more. Happy New Year!

Be here Wednesday 1/7/09 for the latest!

The Recruit: “Private Mills” and “It was Nothing” (Updated 12/31/08

 To watch before you read go to http://www.nbc.com/Heroes/video/categories/the-recruit/873822/.


“Private Mills”

The Recruit microseries follows the storyline of the Pinehurst explosion into the rubble as Marine Private Mills is determined to rescue her brethren from the collapsing building. The others discover her mysterious powers with a flash of light and shadow.

The next scene places the private under the scheming questioning of Angela Petrelli before which Angela goes into a rant on the relativity of truth and Private Mills need to comply with Angela’s wishes.

“It was Nothing”

“It was Nothing” flashes back to just before the demise of Pinehurst. Two other marine decide to inject the serum but beyond that, the effects are unknown. The scene then flashes back tothe present in which Private Mills continues to be held prisoner by Angela and a mysterious man who interrogates her and the episode ends abruptly.


Again as with Santiago form Heroes Destiny, Private Mills’ character and toughness maybe a good addition to the cast but, it’s too early to know for sure. The series may also bring closure to the Pinehurst story. With that said, it may also bring a new level of toxicity to Angela Petrelli’s already heightened, manipulative nature. The Recruit adds new dimension to both characters, one mysterious, (Mills) the other a bit more evil (Angela) and it also clues the viewer in on new minor characters such as the shadowy guard. But again, only time will tell if any of these characters and elements will make the final cut of Season 4.

The Heroes will be back this Thursday night at 7 EST. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!