Presidential Medal of Freedom (1992)
Congressional Gold Medal
Legion of Honour
Elie Wiesel was a Jewish Romanian-American writer, professor and the author of the bestselling book ‘Night’ as well as many other books dealing with Judaism, the Holocaust, and the moral responsibility of the people to fight hatred, racism and genocide. Born in Romania, he along with his family was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in 1944 during the Holocaust. A teenager at that time, he became an eye witness to the atrocities meted out to Jews in the concentration camps where he lost both his parents. Along with the other prisoners of the camps, he was liberated following the ending of the World War II, but the memories of the war would haunt him forever. He then moved to France where he studied literature, philosophy and psychology at the Sorbonne and became a journalist. For years he refused to write about or discuss his experiences during the Holocaust but reconsidered his decision on the advice of the Catholic writer Francois Mauriac who encouraged him to write about his traumatic experiences. Wiesel thus wrote the memoir ‘Night’ which became a grim testimonial of the Holocaust. Eventually his career took him to the United States where he settled down for life. In his later life, he emerged as a political activist and humanitarian and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for voicing his concern about the “global crisis of humanity”.
- Elie Wiesel was born on 30 September 1928 in the town of Sighet, Transylvania, now a part of Romania. His father, Shlomo Wiesel, was an orthodox Jew and had a grocery store while Sarah, his mother, was a daughter of a farmer. He had three sisters.Growing up in a small village in Romania, Elie’s world revolved around family, religious study, community and God. Shlomo 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 Torah and Kabbalah. Elie grew up speaking Yiddish at home, and was also fluent in Hungarian, Romanian, and German.Holocaust Experience
- In 1944, while the World War II was ravaging much of Europe, the Nazis marched into Wiesel’s city, ending his idyllic life. He, along with his family and other Jewish residents of his town were taken prisoners and placed in confinement ghettos.A few weeks later, the Wiesel family was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland where his mother and one of his sisters were killed. Separated from his two other sisters, Wiesel and his father were later deported to the concentration camp at Buchenwald. His father died at this camp, leaving Elie an orphan at 16.The war finally ended in 1945 and the camp was liberated by the U.S. Third Army on April 11, 1945.Later Years
- Following the liberation the teenager was placed on a train with 400 other orphans and sent to France where he was assigned to a home in Normandy under the care of a Jewish organization. There he enrolled in the Sorbonne and studied literature, philosophy and psychology.While in his late teens, he started working as a journalist and began writing for the French newspaper ‘L’Arche.’ He was sent to Israel in 1949 as a correspondent. While in Israel he was also hired as a Paris correspondent for the Israeli newspaper ‘Yedioth Ahronoth.’Over the course of his journalistic career he met the French author, François Mauriac, the 1952 Nobel Laureate in Literature, who eventually became Wiesel's close friend. Till then Wiesel had refused to write about or discuss his experiences during the Holocaust. However, he reconsidered his decision after being advised by Mauriac to begin writing about his harrowing experiences.He first wrote and published his memoir ‘Un di velt hot geshvign’ (And the World Remained Silent) in Yiddish. In 1955 he rewrote a shortened version of the manuscript in French, ‘La Nuit.’In 1955, Wiesel moved to New York as foreign correspondent for the Israel daily, ‘Yediot Ahronot.’ He published the English version of his memoir, ‘Night’ in 1960. Initially the book sold just a few copies but gained much in popularity after some favorable reviews which led to television interviews with Wiesel. Over the following years it was translated into 30 languages with ten million copies sold in the United States.The success of his first memoir was followed by the publication of around 60 other books, most of them non-fiction Holocaust literature, and novels. He gained a reputation as an important literary figure emerging from the Holocaust who described the horrific events from a highly personal level.Teaching was another one of Elie Wiesel’s true loves. From 1972 to 1976, he served as a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York and became the Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Boston University in 1976 where he taught in both its religion and philosophy departments. Many of his students were children of Holocaust survivors.He was also actively involved with Jewish causes. In 1978 he became the chairman for the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust (later renamed US Holocaust Memorial Council), a position he held until 1986. In this position he spearheaded the building of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.In 1982, he was appointed the first Henry Luce Visiting Scholar in Humanities and Social Thought at Yale University.Along with his wife, Marion, he started the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity in 1986. The foundation aimed to promote understanding between conflicting ethnic groups.From 1997 to 1999 he served as Ingeborg Rennert Visiting Professor of Judaic Studies at Barnard College of Columbia University.Major Works
- Elie Wiesel was the author of the Holocaust memoir ‘Night’, which detailed his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945. A major text in Holocaust literature, the book has been translated into 30 languages and has sold more than ten million copies in the United States.After winning the Nobel Prize for Peace, Elie Wiesel and his wife founded the Elie Wiesel Foundation in 1986. The foundation’s mission is "to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality.”As the Chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust established by President Jimmy Carter, Wiesel played a major role in the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), the United States' official memorial to the Holocaust.Awards & Achievements
- Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 1986 for speaking out against violence, repression, and racism. The Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a "messenger to mankind," while presenting him with the award.He was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.He was also the recipient of National Humanities Medal (2009), Norman Mailer Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2011), and Loebenberg Humanitarian Award by Florida Holocaust Museum (2012).He had received more than 90 honorary degrees from colleges worldwide including Doctor of Letters, City College of New York (2008), Doctor of Humane Letters, Bucknell University (2009), Doctor of Humane Letters, College of Charleston (2011), and Doctorate, The University of British Columbia (2012).Personal Life & Legacy
- Elie Wiesel married Marion Erster Rose in 1969. His wife, who hailed from Austria, translated many of his books. They had one son, Shlomo Elisha Wiesel, named after Wiesel’s father.He suffered from health problems in his later years and died on July 2, 2016, at the age of 87.
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