In May, Hedy Epstein passed away at the age of 91.
Born in Germany, she had survived the Nazi genocide because her parents evacuated her to England as part of the Kindertransport.
She was dearly loved, and became known to many of us for her fierce advocacy of universal human rights, particularly for Palestinians.
Her steadfast refusal to be silent about what Israel is doing to Palestinians made her the target of accusations of anti-Semitism from one of the lobby’s fiercest gatekeepers, the Anti-Defamation League.
And earlier this month, the death of Elie Wiesel was followed by an outpouring of tributes for the Auschwitz survivor who like no one else came to embody Holocaust memorialization.
I was recently reminded that these two survivors had at least one face to face encounter, shown in the video above, when Epstein challenged Wiesel to break his silence over Israel’s atrocities in Gaza.
It was on 1 December 2009, when Wiesel came to speak at Saint Louis University, in Epstein’s hometown in Missouri.
Epstein was due to join hundreds of other activists a few weeks later on the Gaza Freedom March, an attempt to break the siege of Gaza to mark the first anniversary of Israel’s December 2008 invasion.
Wiesel’s presentation was characterized by his usual schtick – purporting to preach universal lessons for humanity.
“We cannot allow ourselves not to feel the pain of others,” Wiesel said. “We can’t give in to indifference.”
This is the kind of thing that bagged him the ultimate establishment accolade, the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.
But outside the official hagiography, Wiesel was notorious for erasing non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust – Roma and homosexual men – and defending Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.
In his later years, he also became an apologist for US imperial interventions, including the calamitous invasion of Iraq.
When author Max Blumenthal pointed out these and other inconvenient truths about Wiesel in a searing article, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton sent her spokesperson out to tell him, effectively, to shut up.
But on that day in 2009, Epstein and two other women from St. Louis also insisted on confronting Wiesel.
During his presentation, the three women stood up and displayed banners. Epstein said, “I am a Holocaust survivor.”
“Elie Wiesel, come with us to Gaza,” the women called out.
Wiesel replied curtly, “I have heard you,” and then turned his face away. He never addressed the situation of Palestinians and moved on to the next question as if the women were not there.
It was, you might say, a stunning display of indifference.