“There is no alternative to hope. The alternative would be resignation, despair. Ultimately, despair is never an answer; despair is a question,” Elie Wiesel said.

Wiesel, the holocaust survivor, author and 1986 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, spoke before a crowd of 2,000 students and community members in Arlington Theater on Wednesday night. The theater, normally a venue for action films and rock concerts, fell silent as the crowd waited in the dark for Wiesel to take the stage.

“If anyone had told me in my childhood that one day I would either see the coming of the Messiah or receive the Nobel Prize, what do you think I would have said?” he said. “Surely, the coming of the Messiah.”

The lecture was the first in a new program launched by Arts & Lectures in conjunction with other community organizations intended to bring one Nobel laureate to speak in Santa Barbara each year.

Campbell Hall, which seats 860 people, was originally intended to house the lecture. In response to pressure from the local community, Arts & Lectures changed the venue to the Arlington Theater, which seats 2,018. Within 10 days of the announcement, the remaining 1,158 tickets had been sold.

Wiesel is the author of over 40 books, including Night, for which he won the Nobel Prize. His lecture focused on his life after World War II and his experiences as an activist, a professor and a French war correspondent in Israel.

“Ultimately, I learned that words can heal or destroy. They can make you dream or make you angry. They can give you happiness or sadness. They can bring you closer to the truth or move you further from it,” he said.

Following the lecture, Wiesel fielded questions from the audience, which ranged from questions on how he had kept his faith to what he thought of the Sept. 11 attacks and the conflict in Israel. His message was generally one of hope, though he did express his remorse and the rift between his human experience and his faith.

“There could be, there should be no answer to a tragedy that consumed 6 million people – men, women, children. But nonetheless, I do continue to have faith,” he said. “To say that I don’t would be too easy. I don’t like easy answers. I do continue to have faith in my God. And I tell you, if I ever come before him, I will have something to say.”