Elie Wiesel is 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. A Holocaust survivor, Wiesel lost his parents in his early childhood and escaped to France where he studied literature, philosophy, and psychology at the Sorbonne. Wiesel emerged as a noted journalist and eventually settled in America. Catholic writer Francois Mauriac successfully persuaded Wiesel to write his experiences of the “Holocaust” which he did in his memoir "Night". While his most of the works indirectly address the appalling Holocaust, his literary excellence is often overshadowed by his role of a Holocaust testimony. In his later life, Wiesel 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. 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 Hungarian, Romanian, and German outside.
Days in Death Camps
In 1944, during World War II, Elie, with his family and other Jews of the area, were deported to the German concentration and extermination camps in Poland. Elie and his father were separated from his mother and younger sister and taken to Auschwitz. They were forced to work under appalling conditions and shuffled between concentration camps. On January 29, 1945, Wiesel's father died after suffering from dysentery, and starvation.
End of Holocaust
After the liberation of the camps in April 1945, Wiesel spent a few years in a French orphanage where he was reunited with his older sisters, Hilda and Bea. Like many survivors, Wiesel could not find the words to describe his experiences and even after ten years of the war, Wiesel refused to write about or discuss his experiences during the Holocaust. In 1948, Elie began to study literature, philosophy, and psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris. He gradually became involved in journalistic work with the French newspaper L'arche. He wrote for Israeli and French newspapers, including Tsien in Kamf. It was on the urging of Catholic writer Francois Mauriac, the 1952 Nobel Laureate in Literature, that Elie wrote about his experiences in the death camps. The result was his internationally acclaimed memoir And the World Remained Silent, in Yiddish, and La Nuit or Night in French.
Elie in the USA
In 1956, Elie Wiesel was hit by a taxicab in New York and confined to a wheel chair for almost a year. Unable to renew the French documents, which had allowed him to travel as a "stateless" person, Elie successfully applied for American citizenship. After recovering from his injuries, Elie continued to live in New York as a feature writer for a Yiddish-language newspaper called “The Jewish Daily Forward”. In the US, Wiesel wrote over forty books, including both fiction and non-fiction, and won many literary prizes. His novels include L'Aube (Dawn) and Le Jour (The Accident), which are semi-autobiographical works dealing with Holocaust survivors. In La Ville de la Chance (The Town beyond the Wall), Wiesel imagines returning to his hometown, which he did only after the novel was published.
In 1965, Elie first traveled to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and reported on his travels in The Jews of Silence. Elie skillfully illustrated the Six-day war between Israel and the Arab countries in English as “A Beggar In Jerusalem.”
As a political activist, Wiesel first traveled to the USSR in 1965 and described the situation he observed in the volume called The Jews of Silence. He has continued to plead on the behalf of oppressed people in the Soviet Union, South Africa, Vietnam, Biafra, and Bangladesh. Elie Wiesel also raised concern for the victims of the Kurds and Darfur, Sudan. In September 2006, Wiesel appeared before the United Nations Security Council with actor George Clooney to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
The Romanian government had formed a commission originally named “International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania”. The purpose was to research and write a report on the involvement of the Romanian wartime regime in atrocities against Jews and other groups during the Holocaust. The government appointed Elie Wiesel as its honorary chairman. The International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust released its report in 2004 and the Romanian government reportedly accepted the findings of the report. The commission became known the Wiesel Commission in honor of his leadership.
Elie Wiesel – A Professor
Teaching has always been central to Elie Wiesel’s work. Since 1976, he has been the Professor of Humanities at Boston University. He is also a member of the Faculty in the Department of Religion as well as the Department of Philosophy, there. Previously, he served as Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City University of New York (1972-76) and the first Henry Luce Visiting Scholar in Humanities and Social Thought at Yale University. Wiesel has also been a visiting scholar at the Yale University.
On February 1, 2007, a twenty-two year old boy named Eric Hunt tried to drag Wiesel in a San Francisco hotel. The boy, reportedly a “Holocaust Denier” was later arrested and convicted. Hunt 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.
In an editorial in “The Nation”, British author and journalist Christopher Hitchens once condemned Wiesel's past support for the Palestinian Jewish militant group and his questionable views on the causes of the 1948 Palestinian exodus. Wiesel also had a public dispute with late Simon Wiesenthal over the latter’s efforts to bring attention to the plight of the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for speaking out against violence, repression, and racism. He has also been honored with numerous prizes including “The Congressional Gold Medal” in 1985 and “The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence”. In 1996, Elie and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Wiesel started the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and served as chairperson of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council) from 1978 to 1986. On November 30, 2006 Wiesel received an honorary knighthood in London in recognition of his work towards raising Holocaust education in the United Kingdom. He is also the Founding President of the Paris based Universal Academy of Cultures. Elie Wiesel has received over one-hundred honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning.
Following are the “Selected Works” of great Elie Wiesel:
- Night (1958 )
- Dawn (1961)
- Day, previously titled "The Accident" (1962)
- The Town Beyond the Wall (1964)
- The Gates of the Forest (1966)
- The Jews of Silence (1966)
- Legends of our Time (Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1968)
- A Beggar in Jerusalem ( 1970)
- One Generation After (1970)
- Souls on Fire (1972)
- Night Trilogy (1972)
- The Oath (1973)
- Ani Maamin (1973)
- Zalmen, or the Madness of God (1974)
- Messengers of God (1976)
- A Jew Today (1978)
- Four Hasidic Masters (1978)
- Images from the Bible (1980)
- The Trial of God (1979)
- The Testament (1981)
- Five Biblical Portraits (1981)
- Somewhere a Master (1982)
- The Golem (1983)
- The Fifth Son (1985)
- Against Silence (1985)
- Twilight (1988)
- A Journey of Faith (1990)
- From the Kingdom of Memory (1990)
- Evil and Exile (1990)
- Sages and Dreamers (1991)
- The Forgotten (1992)
- A Passover Haggadah (1993)
- All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs (1995)
- Memoir in Two Voices, with François Mitterrand (1996)
- And the Sea is Never Full: Memoirs
- King Solomon and his Magic Ring (1999)