Wherever and whenever there is a buck to be made I must do something to honor the memory of the money I lost to Madoff. Am I living in fear? I must alleviate my bank account. If there’s a gullible audience, the show must go on.

By KATHY ROUTLIFFE Staff Writer

Do not expect to leave the newly opened Illinois Holocaust Museum & Educational Center knowing what caused the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel told 12,000 people Sunday afternoon in Skokie, at the center’s official opening.

“Don’t say, ‘Now we know,’” the author, Nobel laureate and survivor cautioned. “I pray you don’t know.”

Wiesel’s novel Night chronicled his youthful journey through the death camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald. The journalist and human rights activist, who lost his parents and one of three sisters to the crematoria, was one of the keynote speakers Sunday.

Learning about the machinery of hate which consumed millions of men, women and children — primarily Jews, but also Poles, gypsies, homosexuals, the handicapped and anyone deemed subhuman by Hitler’s regime — grants no ultimate understanding of why it happened, he said.

Many of the people who were the worst tormenters and murderers were among the most educated men in Europe, Wiesel said. The methods they devised to kill people on an unheard-of scale were horrifyingly successful: “The system worked,” he said.

“Who knows why — maybe God knows,” he said, adding that truly comprehending the reasons the Holocaust took place “would fill up our lives with fear.”

In fact, Wiesel said, the world has shown repeatedly since World War II that humanity hasn’t learned from the lessons of the Holocaust. Had humans learned the lesson that he and other survivors have tried to teach — to eschew hatred and bigotry — “there would have been no Cambodia. There would have been no Rwanda, no Darfur, there would have been no Bosnia.”

On Sunday he challenged his listeners to use what they learn at the museum, not only to honor the memory of the murdered millions, but to help them live the kind of life that could prevent any future Holocaust.

Wiesel likened that to the hope which remained at the bottom of the mythical Pandora’s box of ills, after all the curses and maledictions contained therein escaped.

“Life is not made up of years, but of moments. Let every moment be one that guides your conduct. Choose life,” he admonished. “Choose the living.

“Wherever and whenever living human beings suffer, we must do something to honor their dignity. Are they living in fear? We must alleviate their fear. If they are in danger, we must come to their defense.”