CHARLOTTE, N.C. – He is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a Holocaust survivor and a humanitarian; when Elie Wiesel speaks, people listen.
This week he spoke in Charlotte, appearing at the premiere of a film based on his life.
The documentary is called “In the Footsteps of Elie Wiesel” and follows a dozen Charlotte students who retraced Wiesel’s life.
It was in the summer of 2007 when those students were asked to change the world.
Casey Horgan was a student at Myers Park at the time.
“It was such a powerful experience,” she remembers. “It’s going to be with me for the rest of my life.”
“It was a big experience to have at a young age,” says Horgan’s classmate, Cate Auerbach.
Before the students left for the trip they had the chance to sit and talk with Professor Wiesel.
“The first time we met him it was in a garden at the Duke mansion,” Horgan says.
Although known for a number of accomplishments, during a one-one interview this week Wiesel told NewsChannel 36 that his passion is teaching and he remembered that first meeting.
“I was touched and impressed with their intelligence and readiness to learn,” he says.
The students are ambassadors for Charlotte's Echo Foundation.
Wiesel himself helped create The Echo Foundation to help young people fight indifference.
“I really believe every human being can, and must, make a difference,” he says.
Days away from turning 82, Wiesel is soft spoken and thoughtful with his speech.
The teens joke that he speaks in “quotable quotes.”
Wiesel explains the motivation behind the movie made from the experiences students had following in his footsteps. It was the brainchild of the Echo Foundation’s co-founder.
“She thought the students would learn something by going to those places that I came from,” he explains. “Does it mean that they can know what I knew? No, of course not. Does it mean I can feel what I felt? Of course not, but nevertheless, its close.”
The students traveled to where he was born and to Birkenau, the concentration camp where most of his family died.
Watching the movie was hard for the students and harder still for Wiesel.
“It was difficult, naturally, because it brought back not only pictures, but people that I knew that walked and didn't come back,” Wiesel says.
But he says it's important and it is his life's work to make sure the Holocaust is never repeated. He believes it’s important to make sure young people know they really can make a difference.
“Whatever you do in life, think higher and feel deeper,” he says.
The students say they have no choice but to think that way.
“It’s definitely made me think about things differently,” Horgan says. “I know I want to do something better with my life than just live comfortably, have a safe job, that I really do want to help people.”
For more information on the Echo Foundation you can click here.