Elie Wiesel

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Elie Wiesel

Eliezer Wiesel (born September 30, 1928) is a Holocaust survivor, a world-renowned author, and a political activist. He is the author of over forty books, the most famous of which, Night, serves as a testimony to his experiences during the Holocaust. In 1986, Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee called Wiesel a "messenger to mankind", noting that through his struggle to come to terms with "his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler's death camps", as well as his "practical work in the cause of peace", Wiesel has delivered a powerful message "of peace, atonement and human dignity" to humanity. Wiesel lives in the United States, teaches at Boston University and serves as the Chairman of The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity (


Early life and experiences during The Holocaust

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Buchenwald, 1945. Wiesel is second row, seventh from the left.

Wiesel was born in Sighet (now Sighetu Marmaţiei), Romania, to Shlomo and Sarah, Orthodox Jews of Hungarian descent who owned a grocery store. He had three sisters. Elie was devoutly religious as a child and he spent much of his young life studying religious texts. Wiesel was particularly interested in the traditions and folklore of Hasidic Judaism, but he also studied secular topics.

The town of Sighet became part of German ally Hungary in 1940, and in 1944 the Nazis deported the Jewish community in Sighet to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Wiesel was separated from his mother and younger sister, who were murdered at Auschwitz. Elie and his father were sent to the attached work camp Auschwitz III Monowitz. He managed to remain with his father for a year as they were forced to work under appalling conditions and shuffled between concentration camps in the closing days of the war. In January 1945, as the two were being marched to Buchenwald, Wiesel's father died of dysentery, starvation, exhaustion and exposure.

After the War

After the War, Wiesel was placed in a French orphanage where he learned the French language and accidently found an older sister who had also survived the war. In 1948, Wiesel began studying philosophy at the Sorbonne. He taught Hebrew and worked as a choirmaster before becoming a professional journalist. As a journalist he wrote for Israeli and French newspapers, including the French newspaper, L'arche. However, for ten years after the war, Wiesel refused to write about or discuss his experiences during the Holocaust. Like many survivors, Wiesel couldn't find the words to describe his experiences. However, a meeting with François Mauriac, the 1952 Nobel laureate in Literature, who eventually became Wiesel's close friend, persuaded him to write about his Holocaust experiences.

Wiesel recounts his meeting with Mauriac as follows:

I was a young journalist in Paris. I wanted to meet the Prime Minister of France for my paper. He was, then, a Jew called Mendès-France. But he didn't offer to see me. I had heard that the French author François Mauriac... was his guru... So I would go to Mauriac, the writer, and I would ask him to introduce me to Mendès-France.
Mauriac was an old man then, but when I came to Mauriac, he agreed to see me. We met and we had a painful discussion. The problem was that he was in love with Jesus. He was the most decent person I ever met in that field — as a writer, as a Catholic writer. Honest, sense of integrity, and he was in love with Jesus. He spoke only of Jesus.
Whatever I would ask — Jesus. Finally, I said, "What about Mendès-France?" He said that Mendès-France, like Jesus, was suffering. That's not what I wanted to hear. I wanted, at one point, to speak about Mendès-France and I would say to Mauriac, can you introduce me? When he said Jesus again I couldn't take it, and for the only time in my life I was discourteous, which I regret to this day. I said, "Mr. Mauriac,"... "ten years or so ago, I have seen children, hundreds of Jewish children, who suffered more than Jesus did on his cross and we do not speak about it." I felt all of a sudden so embarrassed. I closed my notebook and went to the elevator. He ran after me. He pulled me back; he sat down in his chair, and I in mine, and he began weeping. I have rarely seen an old man weep like that, and I felt like such an idiot. I felt like a criminal. This man didn't deserve that. He was really a pure man, a member of the Resistance. I didn't know what to do. We stayed there like that, he weeping and I closed in my own remorse. And then, at the end, without saying anything, he simply said, "You know, maybe you should talk about it."
He took me to the elevator and embraced me. And that year, the tenth year, I began writing my narrative... That made me not publish, but write.

Wiesel wrote a 900-page book on his experiences in Yiddish (although he usually writes in French). The work was originally published in Buenos Aires. Wiesel compressed and rewrote that book in French, and it was published as the 127-page novel La Nuit, published in English as Night. Even with Mauriac's support Wiesel had great difficulty finding publishers for his work and even when his books were published they sold very poorly.

Life in the United States

In 1956, while in New York for his newspaper, Wiesel was struck by a taxi and as a result, confined to a wheelchair for over a year. Wiesel had been classified a stateless person so he applied for and received American citizenship. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1963. In the United States, Wiesel wrote for a Yiddish language newspaper and also wrote books in French. Wiesel used the attention he received from his writing to draw attention to the plight of oppressed peoples around the world.

He served as chairman for the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust (later renamed U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council) from 1978 to 1986 spearheading the building of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Wiesel is particularly fond of teaching and holds the position of Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Boston University.

Wiesel has also encouraged other survivors to tell their stories about the Holocaust. Among the writers he has encouraged is Jerzy Kosinski, whose novel The Painted Bird has caused some controversy.

Wiesel has now authored over 40 works of fiction and non-fiction, winning numerous literary prizes. He received the Congressional Medal of Freedom in 1985 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Wiesel and his wife, Marion, started the The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity ( soon after. Wiesel published his memoirs in 1995.

In 1997, he received the Guardian of Zion Award.


Wiesel has drawn criticism from Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, who claims that Wiesel has inappropriately turned his work on the Holocaust into a business, making a quiet fortune off of lecture fees that Finkelstein believes to be excessive. Finkelstein claims the phrase "There's no business like Shoah-business" was "literally coined for [Wiesel]". [1] (

Some leftists, including Finkelstein, also criticize Wiesel's ardent support of the State of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, claiming Wiesel "shed[s] tears on cue" for President Clinton while ignoring the plight of the Palestinians--indeed, Wiesel defends the Israelis, saying "Whatever Israel has done is the only thing that Israel could have done" and insisting Israeli soldiers feel "great pain and anguish" in their work. [2] (

Books by Elie Wiesel

  • Night (Hill and Wang 1960; Bantam)
  • Dawn (Hill and Wang 1961; Bantam)
  • The Accident (Le Jour) (Hill and Wang 1962; Bantam)
  • The Town Beyond the Wall (Atheneum 1964)
  • The Gates of the Forest (Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1966)
  • The Jews of Silence (Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1966)
  • Legends of our Time (Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1968)
  • A Beggar in Jerusalem (Random House 1970
  • One Generation After (Random House 1970)
  • Souls on Fire (Random House 1972)
  • Night Trilogy (Hill and Wang 1972)
  • The Oath (Random House 1973)
  • Ani Maamin (Random House 1973)
  • Zalmen, or the Madness of God (Random House 1974)
  • Messengers of God (Random House 1976)
  • A Jew Today (Random House 1978)
  • Four Hasidic Masters (University of Notre Dame Press 1978)
  • Images from the Bible (The Overlook Press 1980)
  • The Trial of God (Random House 1979)
  • The Testament (Summit 1981)
  • Five Biblical Portraits (University of Notre Dame Press 1981)
  • Somewhere a Master (Summit 1982)
  • The Golem (Summit 1983)
  • The Fifth Son (Summit 1985)
  • Against Silence (Holocaust Library 1985
  • Twilight (Summit 1988)
  • The Six Days of Destruction (Paulist Press 1988).
  • A Journey of Faith (Donald I. Fine 1990)
  • From the Kingdom of Memory (Summit 1990)
  • Evil and Exile (University of Notre Dame Press 1990)
  • Sages and Dreamers (Summit 1991)
  • The Forgotten (Summit 1992)
  • A Passover Haggadah (Simon and Schuster 1993)
  • All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs, Vol. I, 1928-1969 (Knopf 1995)
  • Memoir in Two Voices, with Francois Mitterand (Arcade 1996)
  • And the Sea is Never Full: Memoirs Vol. II, 1969 „ (Knopf 1999)
  • King Solomon and his Magic (Greenwillow 1999)
  • Conversations with Elie Wiesel (Schocken 2001)
  • The Judges (Knopf 2002)

External links

es:Elie Wiesel fr:Elie Wiesel it:Elie Wiesel he:אלי ויזל nl:Elie Wiesel pl:Elie Wiesel


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