Saturday, July 2, 2016

Elie Wiesel Dies

Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel KBE; September 30, 1928 – July 2, 2016) was a Romanian-born American Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Holocaust survivor, and Nobel Laureate. He was the author of 57 books, written mostly in French and English, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald concentration camps.  He was the Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Boston University, in Boston, Massachusetts. Wiesel was also the Advisory Board chairman of the newspaper Algemeiner Journal.

When Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a "messenger to mankind," stating 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 had delivered a powerful message "of peace, atonement and human dignity" to humanity.

                                                                  Elie Wiesel in 2012

Imprisoned and Orphaned During the Holocaust

In March 1944, Germany occupied Hungary which extended the Holocaust into that country.  Wiesel was 15, and he with his family, along with the rest of the town's Jewish population, were placed in one of the two confinement ghettos set up in Sighetu, the town where he had been born and raised. In May 1944, the Hungarian authorities, under German pressure, began to deport the Jewish community to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

After they were sent to Auschwitz, his mother and one of his sisters were killed. Wiesel and his father were deported to the concentration camp at Buchenwald, where his father was also killed.  In Night, Wiesel recalled the shame he felt when he heard his father being beaten and was unable to help.  Wiesel was tattooed with inmate number "A-7713" on his left arm.  The camp was liberated by the U.S. Third Army on April 11, 1945.

Post-War Career as a Writer


After World War II ended and Wiesel was freed, he went to Paris where he learned French and studied writing at the Sorbonne.  By the time he was 19, he had begun working as a journalist, writing in French, while also teaching Hebrew and working as a choirmaster.  He wrote for Israeli and French newspapers, including Tsien in Kamf (in Yiddish).

In 1946, after learning of Irgun's bombing of the King David Hotel, Wiesel made an unsuccessful attempt to join the underground movement. In 1948, he translated articles from Hebrew to Yiddish for Irgun periodicals, but said he was not a member of the organization.  In 1949 he travelled to Israel as a correspondent for the French newspaper L'arche. He then was hired as Paris correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, subsequently becoming its roaming international correspondent.

For ten years after the war, Wiesel refused to write about or discuss his experiences during the Holocaust. However, a meeting with the French author François Mauriac, the 1952 Nobel Laureate in Literature who eventually became Wiesel's close friend, persuaded him to write about his experiences. Wiesel said that a discussion he had with Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson was a turning point in his writing of the Holocaust.

Wiesel first wrote the 900-page memoir Un di velt hot geshvign (And the World Remained Silent) in Yiddish, which was published in abridged form in Buenos Aires. Wiesel rewrote a shortened version of the manuscript in French, La Nuit, in 1955 and later translated it into English as Night in 1960.

The book sold few copies over the next 18 months, but attracted interest from reviewers, leading to television interviews with Wiesel and meetings with literary figures such as Saul Bellow. Night has been translated into 30 languages with ten million copies sold in the United States. Oprah Winfrey made it a spotlight selection for her book club in 2006, while film director Orson Welles wanted to make it into a feature film. Wiesel refused, however, saying that his memoir would lose its meaning if it were told without the silences in between his words.

United States

In 1955, Wiesel moved to New York as foreign correspondent for the Israel daily, Yediot Ahronot.   In 1969, he married Marion Erster Rose, who was from Austria, who also translated many of his books.  They had one son, Shlomo Elisha Wiesel, named after Wiesel’s father.

In the U.S., he went on to write over 40 books, most of them non-fiction Holocaust literature, and novels. As an author, he has been awarded a number of literary prizes and is considered among the most important in describing the Holocaust from a highly personal level.  As a result, some historians credited Wiesel with giving the term "Holocaust" its present meaning, although he did not feel that the word adequately described that historical event.

The 1979 book and play The Trial of God are said to have been based on his real-life Auschwitz experience of witnessing three Jews who, close to death, conduct a trial against God, under the accusation that He has been oppressive of the Jewish people. Regarding his personal beliefs, Wiesel calls himself an agnostic.

Wiesel also played a role in the initial success of The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski by endorsing it before revelations that the book was fiction and, in the sense that it was presented as all Kosinski's true experience, a hoax.

Wiesel published two volumes of memoirs. The first, All Rivers Run to the Sea, was published in 1994 and covered his life up to the year 1969. The second, titled And the Sea is Never Full and published in 1999, covered the years from 1969 to 1999.


He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for speaking out against violence, repression, and racism.  The Norwegian Nobel Committee described Wiesel as "one of the most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterize the world."  Wiesel explained his feelings during his acceptance speech:

Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.

He received many other prizes and honors for his work, including the Congressional Gold Medal in 1985, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence.  He was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1996.

Wiesel became a popular speaker on the subject of the Holocaust. As a political activist, he also advocated for many causes, including Israel, the plight of Soviet and Ethiopian Jews, the victims of apartheid in South Africa, Argentina's Desaparecidos, Bosnian victims of genocide in the former Yugoslavia, Nicaragua's Miskito Indians, and the Kurds.

In early 2006, Wiesel accompanied Oprah Winfrey as she visited Auschwitz, a visit which was broadcast as part of The Oprah Winfrey Show.  On November 30, 2006, Wiesel received a knighthood in London in recognition of his work toward raising Holocaust education in the United Kingdom.


Wiesel died on July 2, 2016 at his home in Manhattan, aged 87.

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