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Elie Wiesel

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Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel 2009.jpg
Wiesel speaking in Washington, DC, January 2009
Born Eliezer Wiesel
September 30, 1928 (1928-09-30) (age 88)
Sighet, Maramureş County, Romania
Occupation Political activist, professor, novelist
Notable award(s) Nobel Peace Prize,
Presidential Medal of Freedom,
Congressional Gold Medal

Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel KBE (born September 30, 1928)[1] is a writer, professor at Boston University, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor. He is the author of 57 books, the best known of which is Night, a memoir that describes his experiences during the Holocaust and his imprisonment in several concentration camps. His diverse range of other writings offer powerful and poetic contributions to literature, theology, and his own articulation of Jewish spirituality today.

When Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the Norwegian Nobel Committee called him 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 had delivered a powerful message "of peace, atonement and human dignity" to humanity.[2]

Early life

Elie Wiesel was born on September 30, 1928 in Sighet, a little town in Transylvania, (now Sighetu Marmaţiei), Maramureş, Kingdom of Romania, in the Carpathian Mountains. His mother, Sarah Frig, was the daughter of Dodye Feig, a celebrated Vizhnitz Hasid and farmer from a nearby village. His father, Shlomo Wiesel, was an Orthodox Jew of Hungarian descent, and a shopkeeper who ran his own grocery store. He was active and trusted within the community, and in the early years of his life had spent a few months in jail for having helped Polish Jews who escaped and were hungry. It was Sholomo who instilled a strong sense of humanism in his son, encouraging him to learn modern Hebrew and to read literature, whereas his mother encouraged him to study the Torah and Kabbalah. Wiesel has said his father represented reason, and his mother Sarah promoted faith (Fine 1982:4). Elie Wiesel had three sisters – older sisters Hilda and Beatrice, and younger sister Tzipora. Beatrice and Hilda survived the war and were reunited with Elie at a French orphanage. They eventually emigrated to North America, with Beatrice moving to Montréal, Canada. Unfortunately, Tzipora, Sholomo and Sarah did not survive the war.

World War II

Buchenwald Slave Laborers Liberation

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

In 1940 Romania lost the town of Sighet following the Second Vienna Award. In 1944 Elie, his family and the rest of the town were placed in one of the two ghettos in Sighet. Elie and his family lived in the larger of the two, on Serpent Street. On May 16, 1944, the Hungarian authorities allowed the German army to deport the Jewish community in Sighet to Auschwitz Birkenau. While at Auschwitz, his inmate number, "A-7713", was tattooed onto his left arm. Wiesel was separated from his mother and sister Tzipora, who are presumed to have died at Auschwitz. Wiesel and his father were sent to the attached work camp Buna-Werke, a subcamp of Auschwitz III Monowitz. He managed to remain with his father for over eight months as they were forced to work under appalling conditions and shuffled between three concentration camps in the closing days of the war. On January 29, 1945, just a few weeks after the two were marched to Buchenwald, Wiesel's father died from dysentery, starvation, and exhaustion, and was later sent to the crematorium, only months before the camp was liberated by the American Third Army on April 11.[3] His total time spent in concentration camps was less than eleven months.

After the war

After World War II, Wiesel taught Hebrew and worked as a choirmaster before becoming a professional journalist. He wrote for Israeli and French newspapers, including Tsien in Kamf (in Yiddish) 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 could not 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 experiences. 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.[4] Wiesel rewrote a shortened version of the manuscript in French, and it was published as the 127-page La Nuit, and later translated into English as Night. Even with Mauriac's support, Wiesel had trouble finding a publisher for his book, and initially it sold few copies.

In 1960, Arthur Wang of Hill & Wang agreed to pay a $100 pro-forma advance, and published it in the US in September that year as Night. It sold just 1,046 copies over the next 18 months, but attracted interest from reviewers, leading to television interviews with Wiesel and meetings with literary figures like Saul Bellow. "The English translation came out in 1960, and the first printing was 3,000 copies," Wiesel said in an interview. "And it took three years to sell them. Now, I get 100 letters a month from children about the book. And there are many, many million copies in print." The 1979 book and play The Trial of God is said to have been based on Wiesel's 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.

"Night" has been translated into 30 languages. By 1997, the book was selling 300,000 copies annually in the United States alone. By March 2006, about six million copies were sold in the United States. On January 16, 2006, Oprah Winfrey chose the work for her book club. One million extra paperback and 150,000 hardcover copies were printed carrying the "Oprah's Book Club" logo, with a new translation by Wiesel's wife, Marion, and a new preface by Wiesel. On February 13, 2006, Night was no. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list for paperback non-fiction.

Life in the United States

Eli wiesel house in sighet01

The house where Elie Wiesel was born

In 1955, Wiesel moved to New York City, having become a US citizen: due to injuries suffered in a traffic accident, he was forced to stay in New York past his visa's expiration and was offered citizenship to resolve his status. In the US, Wiesel wrote over 40 books, both fiction and non-fiction, and won many literary prizes. Wiesel's writing is considered among the most important in Holocaust literature. Some historians credit Wiesel with giving the term 'Holocaust' its present meaning, but he does not feel that the word adequately describes the event and wishes it were used less frequently to describe significant occurrences as everyday tragedies (Wiesel:1999, 18). He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for speaking out against violence, repression, and racism. He has received many other prizes and honors for his work, including the Congressional Gold Medal in 1985, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1996. He currently lives in Boston, where he is a professor of humanities at Boston University.

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

He is also the recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence. Wiesel has published two volumes of his memoirs. The first, All Rivers Run to the Sea, was published in 1994 and covered his life up to the year 1969 while the second, titled And the Sea is Never Full and published in 1999, covered 1969 to 1999. Wiesel and his wife, Marion, started the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. He served as chairman for the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust (later renamed US Holocaust Memorial Council) from 1978 to 1986, spearheading the building of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

File:Eli Wiesel US Congress.jpg

Wiesel is particularly fond of teaching and holds the position of Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Boston University. From 1972 to 1976, Wiesel was a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York and member of the American Federation of Teachers. In 1982 he served as the first Henry Luce Visiting Scholar in Humanities and Social Thought at Yale University. He also co-instructs Winter Term (January) courses at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida. From 1997 to 1999 he was Ingeborg Rennert Visiting Professor of Judaic Studies at Barnard College.

Wiesel has become a popular speaker on the subject of the Holocaust. As a political activist, he has 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. Conversely, he withdrew from his role as chair of the International Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide, and made efforts to abort the conference, in deference to Israeli objection to the inclusion of sessions on the Armenian genocide.[5][6]

He recently voiced support for intervention in Darfur, Sudan.[7] He also led a commission organized by the Romanian government to research and write a report, released in 2004, on the true history of the Holocaust in Romania and the involvement of the Romanian wartime regime in atrocities against Jews and other groups, including the Roma. The Romanian government accepted the findings in the report and committed to implementing the commission's recommendations for educating the public on the history of the Holocaust in Romania. The commission, formally called the International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, came to be called the Wiesel Commission in honor of his leadership. Wiesel is the honorary chair of the Habonim Dror Camp Miriam Campership and Building Fund, and a member of the International Council of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation. On March 27, 2001, Wiesel appeared at the University of Florida for Jewish Awareness Month and was presented with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the University of Florida by Dr. Charles Young.[8] In 2002, he inaugurated the Elie Wiesel Memorial House in Sighet in his childhood home.[9]

Recent years

In early 2006, Wiesel traveled to Auschwitz with Oprah Winfrey, a visit which was broadcast as part of The Oprah Winfrey Show on May 24, 2006.[10] Wiesel said that this would most likely be his last trip there. In September 2006, he appeared before the UN Security Council with actor George Clooney to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. On November 30, 2006 Wiesel received an honorary knighthood in London in recognition of his work toward raising Holocaust education in the United Kingdom.[11] On April 25, 2007, Wiesel was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree from the University of Vermont. During the early 2007 selection process for the Kadima candidate for President of Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly offered Wiesel the nomination (and, as the ruling-party candidate and an apolitical figure, likely the Presidency), but Wiesel "was not very interested."[12] Shimon Peres was chosen as the Kadima candidate (and later President) instead. In 2007, Elie Wiesel was awarded the Dayton Literary Peace Prize's Lifetime Achievement Award.[13] On April 9, 2008, Wiesel was presented with an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Letters at the City College of New York.

In 2007 the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity issued a letter condemning Armenian genocide denial that was signed by 53 Nobel laureates including Wiesel. Wiesel has repeatedly called Turkey's 90-year-old campaign to cover up the Armenian genocide a double killing, since it strives to kill the memory of the original atrocities.[14]

On September 29, 2008, the Rochester College President Rubel Shelly, on its 50th anniversary, bestowed Wiesel with a plaque conferring on him as an honorary visiting professor of humanities.[15]

On November 17, 2008, he received an honorary doctorate from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.[16]

In 2009, Wiesel criticized the Vatican over its lifting of the excommunication of controversial bishop Richard Williamson, a member of the Society of Saint Pius X.[17]

In December 2008, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity issued a press release[18] stating that nearly all of the foundation's assets (approximately $15.2 million USD) had been lost through Bernard Madoff's investment firm.[19]

At a Conde Nast roundtable, Wiesel spoke about losing his entire life savings to Bernard Madoff's ponzi scheme.

On June 5, 2009, Wiesel accompanied US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they toured Buchenwald.[20] Merkel, Obama, and Wiesel each spoke about Buchenwald in personal terms, with Obama speaking of his great uncle liberating an outlying camp, Merkel considering the responsibility of Germans vis-à-vis National Socialist history, and Wiesel reflecting on the suffering and death of his father in the camp.[20]

Wiesel returned to Hungary for the first official visit since the Holocaust between December 9-11, 2009 by the invitation of Rabbi Slomó Köves, executive rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation and the Hungarian branch of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. During his visit Wiesel participated in a conference at the Upper House Chamber of the Hungarian Parliament, met Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai and President László Sólyom and made a speech to the approximately 10 thousand participants of a major anti racist gathering held in Faith Hall. The speech was broadcasted live by Magyar ATV, a nationwide television channel.[1][2][3]

2007 Attack on Wiesel

On February 1, 2007, Wiesel was attacked in a San Francisco hotel by 22-year-old Holocaust denier Eric Hunt who tried to drag Wiesel into a hotel room. Wiesel was not injured and Hunt fled the scene. Later, Hunt bragged about the incident on a Holocaust denial website. Approximately one month later, he was arrested and charged with multiple offenses.[21][22]

Hunt was convicted on July 21, 2008,[22][23] and was sentenced to two years but was given credit for time served and good behavior and was released on probation and ordered to undergo psychological treatment. The jury convicted Hunt of three charges but dismissed the remaining charges of attempted kidnapping, stalking, and an additional count of false imprisonment, amid Hunt's withdrawal of his not guilty by reason of insanity plea.[24][25] District Attorney Kamala Harris said: "Crimes motivated by hate are among the most reprehensible of offenses ... This defendant has been made to answer for an unwarranted and biased attack on a man who has dedicated his life to peace."[26] At his sentencing hearing, Hunt apologized and insisted that he no longer denies the Holocaust,[27] however he continues to maintain and update a blog which denies the Holocaust and is critical of prominent Jewish people.[28]


Wiesel is thoroughly criticised by Norman Finkelstein in his book The Holocaust Industry. Finkelstein accuses Wiesel of promoting the "uniqueness doctrine" which holds, according to Finkelstein, the Holocaust as the paramount of evil and therefore historically incomparable to other genocides.[29] In the book Wiesel is also lambasted for playing down the importance of other genocides, especially the Turkish Holocaust on the Armenians, and thwarting efforts of raising awareness of the genocide of the Romani people executed by the Nazis. These claims are exemplified by Wiesel's lobbying for commemorating Jews alone (not the Romani people) in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington in addition to numerous Wiesel quotes on the "uniqueness of Holocaust"[30]


In 2004, Elie Weisel attended Action Against Hunger's annual gala to present Nelson Mandela with the Action Against Hunger Humanitarian Award.[31]


  • Un di velt hot geshvign (Tsentral-Farband fun Poylishe Yidn in Argentine, 1956) ISBN 0-374-52140-9; (first version of Night)
  • Night (Hill and Wang 1958; 2006) ISBN 0-553-27253-5 (Personal account of the Holocaust)
  • Dawn (Hill and Wang 1961; 2006) ISBN 0-553-22536-7
  • Day, previously titled "The Accident" (Hill and Wang 1962; 2006) ISBN 0-553-58170-8
  • 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) ISBN 0-935613-01-3
  • Legends of our Time (Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1968)(Artistically depicted memories)
  • A Beggar in Jerusalem (Random House 1970)(Novel)
  • One Generation After (Random House 1970)
  • Souls on Fire (Random House 1972) ISBN 0-671-44171-X (First book of portraits and legends of Hasidic Masters: many of the most famous)
  • Night Trilogy (Hill and Wang 1972)
  • The Oath (Random House 1973) ISBN 0-935613-11-0
  • Ani Maamin (Random House 1973)
  • Zalmen, or the Madness of God (Random House 1974)
  • Messengers of God (Random House 1976) ISBN 0-671-54134-X (Biblical portraits)
  • A Jew Today (Random House 1978) ISBN 0-935613-15-3 (Essays and imaginative works on Jewish identity)
  • Four Hasidic Masters-and their struggle against melancholy (University of Notre Dame Press 1978)(Portraits of Hasidic Masters)
  • Images from the Bible (The Overlook Press 1980)
  • The Trial of God (Random House 1979)(Play)
  • The Testament (Summit 1981)
  • Five Biblical Portraits (University of Notre Dame Press 1981)(Biblical figures reinterpreted)
  • Somewhere a Master (Further Hasidic portraits, after "Souls on Fire") (Summit 1982)
  • The Golem (illustrated by Mark Podwal) (Summit 1983) ISBN 0-671-49624-7 (Children's book on the Jewish legend)
  • The Fifth Son (Summit 1985)
  • Against Silence (Holocaust Library 1985)
  • Twilight (Summit 1988)
  • The Six Days of Destruction (co-author Albert Friedlander, illustrated by Mark Podwal) (Paulist Press 1988)
  • A Journey of Faith (Donald I. Fine 1990)
  • From the Kingdom of Memory (Summit 1990)(essays and depictions after "A Jew Today")
  • Evil and Exile (University of Notre Dame Press 1990)
  • Sages and Dreamers (Summit 1991)(Portraits of Biblical, Talmudic and Hasidic figures)
  • The Forgotten (Summit 1992) ISBN 0-8052-1019-9
  • A Passover Haggadah (illustrated by Mark Podwal) (Simon and Schuster 1993) ISBN 0-671-73541-1 (Jewish liturgy)
  • All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs, Vol. I, 1928-1969 (Knopf 1995) ISBN 0-8052-1028-8
  • Memoir in Two Voices, with François Mitterrand (Arcade 1996)
  • And the Sea is Never Full: Memoirs Vol. II, 1969 (Knopf 1999) ISBN 0-8052-1029-6
  • King Solomon and his Magic Ring (illustrated by Mark Podwal) (Greenwillow 1999)
  • Conversations with Elie Wiesel (Schocken 2001)
  • The Judges (Knopf 2002)
  • Wise Men and Their Tales (Portraits of Biblical, Talmudic and Hasidic figures) (Schocken 2003) ISBN 0-8052-4173-6
  • The Time of the Uprooted (Knopf 2005)
  • A Mad Desire to Dance (2009)
  • Rashi a biography (2009)

Additionally, as Elie Wiesel has offered a unique and poetic articulation of traditional Jewish thought and identity today, other books sometimes carry introductions or reviews from him:

Critical analysis and appreciation of Wiesel's position in the history of literature:

  • Student Companion to Elie Wiesel (Student Companions to Classic Writers) Sanford Sternlicht (Greenwood Press, 2003) ISBN 0313325308, ISBN 978-0313325304 (Covers his personal and literary background, "Night", main novels, and one chapter on his most important non-fiction)

See also

  • The Boys of Buchenwald – A documentary about the orphanage in which he stayed after the Holocaust
  • God on Trial – A 2008 joint BBC / WGBH Boston dramatisation of his book The Trial of God, about a group of Auschwitz prisoners who place God on trial for breaching his contract with the Jewish people.


  1. Elie Wiesel from Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Press Release
  3. see the film "Elie Wiesel Goes Home" by Judit Elek, narrated by William Hurt ISBN #1-930545-63-0
  4. Naomi Seidman, "Elie Wiesel and the Scandal of Jewish Rage," Jewish Social Studies 3:1 (Fall 1996), p. 5.
  5. Finkelstein, N.(2003) The Holocaust Industry, 2nd edition, p.69.
  6. Peter Novick. The Holocaust in American Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. 373 pp.
  7. Elie Wiesel: On the Atrocities in Sudan
  8. Independent Florida Alligator article March 23, 2001
  9. Elie Wiesel Returns to his Home in Sighet, Romania, Embassy of Romania in the United States, 23 July 2002.
  10. Press Release ~
  11. "Wiesel Receives Honorary Knighthood" ~
  12. Olmert backs Peres as next president Jerusalem Post, 18 October 2006
  13. Dayton awards 2007 peace prizes
  14. State of Denial: Turkey Spends Millions to Cover Up Armenian Genocide, By David Holthouse // Intelligence Report, Summer 2008
  15., Holocaust survivor honored
  16. Elie Wiesel will receive an honorary doctorate from the Weizmann Institute
  17. Elie Wiesel attacks pope over Holocaust bishop
  18. Statement on Elie Wiesel Foundation Website
  19. Agence French Presse (AFP) (December 24, 2008). "Wiesel Foundation loses nearly everything in Madoff scheme". Retrieved 2008-12-24. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Visiting Buchenwald, Obama speaks of the lessons of evil
  21. "Suspect named in Wiesel attack", MSNBC, February 16, 2007
  22. 22.0 22.1 "N.J. man arrested in attack on Wiesel". Yahoo! News. 2007-02-17. 
  23. "Man guilty in false imprisonment of Elie Wiesel". Reuters. 
  24., Man convicted of hate crime for accosting Wiesel
  25., Court Reaches Verdict In Elie Wiesel Accosting Trial
  26., SF jury convicts man of 1 felony in Wiesel case
  27. Associated Press (2008-08-18). "Man gets two-year sentence for accosting Elie Wiesel". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-08-27. 
  28. "Eric Hunt: Stop tormenting children with Holyhoax lies". 
  29. Finkelstein, N.(2003) The Holocaust Industry, 2nd edition, p.44-45.
  30. Finkelstein, N.(2003) The Holocaust Industry, 2nd edition, p.75-76.


  • Berenbaum, Michael: The Vision of the Void. Theological Reflections on the Works of Elie Wiesel, Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1979 ISBN 0-8195-6189-4 PA
  • Fonseca, Isabel: Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey, London, Vintage, 1996
  • Fine, Ellen S. Legacy of Night: The Literary Universe of Elie Wiesel. State University of New York Press, 1982. ISBN 0-87395-590-0 (paperback)
  • Rota, Olivier. Choisir le français pour exprimer l’indicible. Elie Wiesel, in Mythe et mondialisation. L’exil dans les littératures francophones, Actes du colloque organisé dans le cadre du projet bilatéral franco-roumain « Mythes et stratégies de la francophonie en Europe, en Roumanie et dans les Balkans », programme Brâcuşi des 8-9 septembre 2005, Editura Universităţii Suceava, Suceava, 2006, pp. 47-55. Re-published in Sens, dec. 2007, pp. 659-668.
  • Wiesel, Elie. All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs. New York: Knopf, 1995.
  • Wiesel, Elie. And the Sea is Never Full: Memoirs 1969-. New York: Schocken, 1999.

External links

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