Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has faced danger throughout his career as a famed human rights activist, but he said Wednesday that he “felt fear” in San Francisco when he was allegedly attacked in a hotel elevator Feb. 1.
“Since 1945, I have been in many places of danger,” the veteran peace activist said. “But I was never really afraid. … This time, in San Francisco, I felt fear.”
Flanked by police officers and private security guards, Wiesel returned to San Francisco on Wednesday for his first visit since the alleged attack as he accepted the prestigious Koret Prize. The Boston University professor, 78, and author of the Holocaust memoir “Night,” said he was afraid for his safety when an apparent Holocaust denier confronted him in an elevator in the Argent Hotel.
“He grabbed me out of the elevator and tried to take me into his custody and force me to admit that ‘Night’ is a lie,” Wiesel said Wednesday.
Wiesel said he was “absolutely” certain that 22-year-old Eric Hunt, of New Jersey, attacked him. Police arrested Hunt after a post describing the incident appeared on an anti-Semitic Web site linked to Hunt.
Hunt was arrested Feb. 17 at a mental institution in New Jersey. Authorities are working to extradite him to San Francisco, District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Bilen Mesfin said.
Hunt faces six felony counts, including kidnapping, elder abuse, battery, stalking and two counts of false imprisonment. He also faces hate-crime enhancements.
Hunt’s lawyer, James Addis of Hackensack, N.J., said his client was not an anti-Semite or Holocaust denier, but a “very, very disturbed young man” suffering from bipolar disorder.
Wiesel, who has long been harassed for his outspokenness on the Holocaust, called Holocaust deniers “not mentally ill but morally ill,” and said he had nothing to say to them. “I think they are lost,” he said.
The Koret Prize, which includes a $250,000 grant, is awarded periodically to “individual[s] who make extraordinary contributions in areas of interest to the foundation,” foundation president Tad Taube said as he introduced Wiesel to reporters.
Wiesel has written more than 40 books. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his work fighting racism.
When asked if he would return to The City, Wiesel said, “If you invite me, I’ll come.” Surrounded by police and security, he quipped, “I have never felt as safe in my life. I think the security people are more nervous than I, but that’s their job.”
Read, watch, and listen to an interview with Elie Wiesel on the Academy of Achievement web site.