As one of the world’s most renowned Holocaust scholars, novelists, and human rights activists, I do a lot of traveling. Whether I’m promoting a new book or delivering a lecture at a university about how I survived the Nazi concentration camps, I am constantly on the go and constantly staying overnight in one city or another. I would say that in a given week I must call at least three different hotels to make reservations for an upcoming trip. And, like clockwork, the second I give my name to a hotel employee, something inevitably comes over him and he thinks it’s open season to launch into some long, drawn-out story about how his grandmother or grandfather survived the Holocaust.
Look, I’ve heard them all. All I want to do is make my hotel reservation and get on with my day, okay?
Put yourself in my shoes. When you make hotel reservations do you want to hear about how someone’s grandfather would have died at Bergen-Belsen had it been liberated just one week later? No. Of course not. All you want to do is give your name, specify what kind of bed you want (I personally prefer a king-size bed, but I’ll take a queen if that’s what’s available), find out what time check-in is, and then that’s that. The last thing you want is to be on the line for another 25 minutes while somebody you don’t even know tells an incredibly intense story about how, to this day, a great uncle is haunted by his experience at Buchenwald.
I literally can’t remember the last time I called a hotel and the Holocaust didn’t come up. Sometimes the call will go pretty smoothly. I’ll get to the part where I give my credit card number and I’ll think, “Okay, we’re home free.” The call is just about to end, and then the hotel employee says something like, “I couldn’t help but notice…” and I think to myself, “Good Christ, here we go.”
Just because I survived the Holocaust, went on to write one of the preeminent novels about the subject, and have an entire commission named after me that is devoted to shining a light on Romania’s involvement in the Holocaust, doesn’t necessarily mean I’m this 24/7 Holocaust guy who can’t get enough Holocaust stories. If I’m teaching a class or having a panel discussion, fine, lay it on me. I’ll listen to someone talk about every single relative under the sun who was separated from his parents, or was miraculously reunited with his parents, or would have died had it not been for his sister sneaking him extra bread at night. I’m game for all that stuff.
But if I’m on the phone with the San Francisco Hilton, I just want to make sure my room is non-smoking and find out if the gym has an elliptical.
How about this? If I call your hotel, pretend my name isn’t Elie Wiesel. Pretend my name is, I don’t know, Vernon Todd. Would you talk about the Holocaust with Vernon Todd? Would you feel in any way compelled to tell someone named Vernon Todd about how your mother’s mother was part of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising? No. You’d say, “Thank you, Mr. Todd. We’ll see you Monday.”
What I’m saying is, hotel reservation time isn’t Holocaust time.
Look, I don’t mean to be a jerk. Back in the ’70s when Night was really gaining popularity, I’ll admit that it was exciting when someone would recognize my name and a simple hotel booking would turn into an interesting tale of how an older cousin lied to the Nazis about his age, which, in turn, made him seem more valuable as a laborer. But 40 years of that can wear on a guy, especially if he has a dinner to get to or just wants to watch a little Carson and call it a night. You know what I mean?
And it’s not just hotel employees, either. Making restaurant reservations are the worst. And I swear to God, the next time I call a car service and the dispatcher just starts yapping about how he wouldn’t have been born if his grandmother wouldn’t have bravely hid with a Polish family for a year, I’m going to fucking scream. There are two things people need to know about Elie Wiesel: He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, and whenever he is making reservations he isn’t in a listening mood.
What are people expecting to get out of telling me their relative’s Holocaust survival story, anyway? Is it the pure satisfaction that Elie Wiesel knows the story? That’s kind of weird, right? I don’t know, I just think it’s kind of weird.
So, if you work behind a desk somewhere and are in the capacity of taking reservations, now you know how I feel. I’m glad I finally got to get this off my chest because it’s been bothering me for a really long time.