NEW YORK — Elie Wiesel was memorialized Sunday at a private service in Manhattan, as family and friends gathered to praise the endurance and eloquence of the Nobel Peace Prize recipient and mourn him as one of the last firsthand witnesses to the Nazis’ atrocities.
‘‘This is really the double tragedy of it, not only the loss of someone who was so rare and unusual but the fact that those ranks are thinning out,’’ Rabbi Perry Berkowitz, president of the American Jewish Heritage Organization and a former assistant to Wiesel, said before the service.
‘‘At the same time anti-Semitism, Holocaust revisionism keeps rising,’’ Berkowitz said. “The fear is that when there are no more survivors left, will the world learn the lesson because those voices will be silenced.’’
Wiesel, who taught at Boston University for about four decades, died Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 87.
About 100 people attended the service at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue. Wiesel’s widow, Marion, listened as he was eulogized by their son, Elisha.
Millions first learned about the Holocaust through Wiesel, who began publishing in the 1950s, a time when memories of the Nazis’ atrocities were raw and repressed. He shared the harrowing story of his internment at Auschwitz as a teenager through his classic memoir ‘‘Night,’’ one of the most widely read and discussed books of the 20th century.
The Holocaust happened more than 70 years ago and few authors from that time remain. Another Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, Hungary’s Imre Kertesz, died earlier this year.
While Berkowitz and others worry that the Holocaust’s lessons will be forgotten, some note that Wiesel worked continually to make the memories endure.
Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said before the service that Wiesel had written dozens of books, and tried to apply the lessons of the Holocaust to other cultures.
‘‘He carried a message universally, he carried the Jewish pain, the message of Jewish tragedy to the world but he took it way beyond,’’ Foxman said. ‘‘He stood up for the people in Rwanda, he stood up for the Yugoslavians, he stood up for the Cambodians,’’ said Foxman, who had known Wiesel for decades.
Sara Bloomfield, director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, credited Wiesel with making organizations like hers possible.
‘‘ ‘Night’ really put Elie Wiesel’s personal memories into our personal consciousness and it ended up spawning a global remembrance movement that is very vital today,’’ she said in a telephone interview.
On Sunday, mourners shared many personal memories. Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, remembered visiting Auschwitz with Wiesel in the 1980s and was struck that Wiesel’s response was not one of hate, but of ‘‘great sadness.’’
‘‘And he said to me what I think was one of the most important statements: ‘The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference, it was indifference that brought anti-Semitism to Germany and it was indifference that brought the Holocaust,’ ’’ Lauder explained.
Foxman said that in recent months he and Wiesel would reminisce, in Yiddish, and talk philosophy.
‘‘We talked about forgiveness, we talked about God. He was struggling with it,’’ Foxman said. ‘‘Well now he’s a little closer. Now he can challenge the Almighty much closer and maybe he’ll get some answers, which he asked, but never got the answers to.’’
Wiesel never lived in Israel, but on Sunday that country mourned his death as though it had lost a national icon.
A frequent visitor who was fluent in Hebrew, Wiesel was a confidant of Israeli prime ministers and a towering cultural figure so revered that two premiers considered nominating him to be the country’s ceremonial president.
His unwavering support for Israel proved divisive at times, with critics arguing that he ignored the suffering of the Palestinians and backed Israeli settlements. He also waded into last year’s debate over the nuclear deal with Iran, attending an address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the US Congress that angered the White House.
Wiesel was championed by Israeli leaders as a symbol of the Jewish people’s journey from the depths of despair to the redemption of having a land of their own.
‘‘Your voice will continue to be heard. It is ingrained in our nation,’’ eulogized Shimon Peres, the former president and a fellow Nobel peace laureate. ‘‘Our people have known darkness and terrible danger, but also amazing rebirth. This is what allows us to continue on.’’
Wiesel’s connection to Israel began immediately after it gained independence in 1948, when he arrived to the newborn state as a foreign correspondent for a French newspaper. He later worked as a roving reporter for an Israeli daily.
He moved to New York in 1956, became an American citizen, and later hobnobbed with presidents who welcomed him to the White House and tasked him with planning an American Holocaust memorial museum. He received the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But in many ways his heart remained in Israel, a place he visited three times a year. In 1961, he covered the trial of Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. In 1969, he married his wife there.
Wiesel was a driving force behind the establishment of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. His words, ‘‘For the dead and the living, we must bear witness,’’ are engraved in stone at the entrance to the museum.