Elie Wiesel Can’t Forgive Bernie Madoff – Can Wiesel Forgive Himself?

Hum…as I have shuttled between airports and plane on my way home from a week of speaking engagements – addressing groups on business ethics and fraud prevention, I have debated whether or not to write this article.  On one hand I believe that the topic is so hot and the emotions so high that I run the risk of offending those who are already hurt.  On the other hand, I feel that part of what I do is say what needs to be said.

CNN did an article on the Bernie Madoff scandal and Elie Wiesel’s reaction.  In the article it was reported that Elie Wiesel could not forgive Bernie Madoff 42-15853357and that Wiesel wanted the government to help “bail out” the charities who lost money.

Now let me say from the outset, I believe what Bernie Madoff did was a travesty and I, in now way, support him or his actions.  The repercussions of Madoff’s actions are far reaching and have wreaked substantial harm.  But with that said, I also have to take issue with Wiesel (although I have great respect for him and the work that he does).

CNN reported:

Elie Wiesel, the Nazi concentration camp survivor who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, showed little inclination this week to make peace with accused swindler Bernie Madoff, whom he called “one of the greatest scoundrels, thieves, liars, criminals.”

“Could I forgive him? No,” the 80-year-old told a panel assembled Thursday by Conde Nast’s Portfolio Magazine at New York’s 21 Club to discuss Madoff, whose alleged victims included Wiesel and his foundation, The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.

“To forgive, first of all, would mean that he would come on his knees and ask for forgiveness,” the Auschwitz survivor said. “He wouldn’t do that.”

Up to this point, as I read the CNN article I understood where Wiesel was coming from.  There are many emotions people feel when they first find out that a deep and abiding trust has been broken.  If a spouse commits adultery, trust is broken and it takes years to heal – if it can be healed at all.

While money isn’t marriage, it’s about as close as you can get.  So when trust is broken and money is lost in a manner that happened with Madoff, it’s no wonder that it is hard to find forgiveness in your heart.  Perhaps over time one may come to that place of peace – of forgiveness – but with only three months to deal with the emotion of loss – now is not that time.

THE NEXT PART – wobbled me though…

The article goes on to say:

Wiesel said a wealthy friend who has known Madoff for 50 years introduced them. The two men met twice over dinner, and Wiesel checked with financial experts whom he trusted before investing all of his and his wife’s personal money.

Then, once Madoff had gained his trust, Wiesel invested all $15.2 million that his foundation had amassed, he said.

“We thought he was God, we trusted everything in his hands,” the Boston University humanities professor said.

Now here’s where the rub comes, at least for me.  Can Wiesel forgive himself?  “What?” you might say…forgive himself.

“Yes,” that’s exactly what I said.  FORGIVE HIMSELF!

Bernie Madoff was brilliant in how he was able to execute a fraud of this magnitude.  Please note, I did not say it was right, nor do I endorse in any way what he did.  I just acknowledge that the method and execution was amazing.  It, therefore, was easy to see just how folks could get sucked into his scam.

But, Elie Wiesel, too, is a smart man and smart men know that you don’t put all “your eggs in one basket.”  Actually, that is a fundamental truth that is taught all throughout our education.  Wiesel knew better.  One might ask if associated with Wiesel’s trust, was it ethical on Wiesel’s part to place the trust’s assets at risk like he did?

For Wiesel to say that after two meetings he invested ALL of he and his wife’s personal money is amazing.  O.K. I got it, he sought the advice of trusted financial experts.  Who was he talking to?  What financial expert would advise Wiesel to invest ALL of his money with one guy?

Wiesel, like others, was sucked into the vast PIT that Bernie Madoff created.

PROMISE – that’s the beginning.  Now, I don’t know Mr. Wiesel, but I do no fraud and how it begins.  My guess (although most won’t admit it) was that Wiesel found himself enthralled by Bernie’s PROMISE.  It’s easy to want to have an investment source that is BETTER than what the average “Joe” can get.  We all want to believe that we are special and deserve something better than what is available to others.  That’s where the PROMISE works and hooks unsuspecting prey.

ILLUSION – A master illusionist, Bernie looked the part, talked the part, and had paperwork to prove the part.  While I doubt Madoff started off as a fraud, I believe that his superior intellect allowed him to transform from good guy to crook with relative ease.  And after all, we all love a good ILLUSION.  David Cooperfield could take lessons from Bernie.

Lastly, TRUST was the cement that secured the deal.  While the CNN report stated:
Wiesel rejected the suggestion that “affinity fraud,” the tendency for people to trust others of similar background, played any role in leaving him vulnerable to Madoff. Both men are Jewish.

I agree with Wiesel that it wasn’t just “Jewsihness” that made Madoff’s deal work, but in the Jewish community many deals are based on TRUST.  Madoff knew that and found two needed ingredients needed to make his Ponzi scheme work – money and trust.


The CNN article went further to say:

Wiesel said he is planning legal action against Madoff but called for the federal government to bail out charities just as it has bailed out carmakers and banks.

“I think it would be a great gesture that the Obama administration should show, we really think of those who are helpless and who are doing with their money only good things.”

I have to respectfully disagree.  To place a burden on taxpayers to make Mr. Wiesel’s charity who is an amazing expectation.  Let me get this straight, Wiesel didn’t use good plain ole “common sense” —  rather he invested ALL his money and ALL the charity’s money with Madoff and someone else should be responsible for his lapse in judgment?  Come on!


Wiesel is financially suffering, true.  But, Wiesel is also experiencing the irrefutable law of choices and consequences.

Be careful whom you point fingers at cause when a finger is pointed at another, three are pointing back at you.  Hindsight being 20/20 I would suspect that Mr. Wiesel would today agree that he should have been more prudent with his charities investments cause all “your eggs in one basket” is dangerous.



One Response to Elie Wiesel Can’t Forgive Bernie Madoff – Can Wiesel Forgive Himself?

  1. Daehler Richard says:

    Wiesel is, like most of those in his situation, a victim not only of Madoff, but of his own greed, of the cult of blindly relying on “trustworthy” specialists, friends, who, in reality, just parrot society gossip, all this supported by the US decade-long sloppiness in personal and public spending, based on bluff and constant borrowing from the future.

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