"Most people think that shadows follow, precede or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, ideas, desires, deeds, impulses and memories." -- Elie Wiesel
Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel KBE (; born September 30, 1928) is a Romanian-born Jewish-American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor. He is the author of 57 books, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.
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.
"A destruction, an annihilation that only man can provoke, only man can prevent.""Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.""Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.""Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.""Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.""I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead. and anyone who does not remember betrays them again.""I do not recall a Jewish home without a book on the table.""I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I've been closer to him for that reason.""I marvel at the resilience of the Jewish people. Their best characteristic is their desire to remember. No other people has such an obsession with memory.""I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.""I write to understand as much as to be understood.""In Jewish history there are no coincidences.""Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.""Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.""Man, as long as he lives, is immortal. One minute before his death he shall be immortal. But one minute later, God wins.""Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.""No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.""Not to transmit an experience is to betray it.""Once you bring life into the world, you must protect it. We must protect it by changing the world.""Our obligation is to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.""Peace is our gift to each other.""Some stories are true that never happened.""That is my major preoccupation, memory, the kingdom of memory. I want to protect and enrich that kingdom, glorify that kingdom and serve it.""The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.""There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.""There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don't see them.""There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.""We have to go into the despair and go beyond it, by working and doing for somebody else, by using it for something else.""What does mysticism really mean? It means the way to attain knowledge. It's close to philosophy, except in philosophy you go horizontally while in mysticism you go vertically.""Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds."
Wiesel was born on September 30, 1928, in Sighet, Transylvania, (now Sighetu Marma?iei), Maramure?, Kingdom of Romania, in the Carpathian Mountains. His mother, Sarah Feig, was the daughter of Dodye Feig, a celebrated Vizhnitz Hasid and farmer from a nearby village. 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 his father, Shlomo, who instilled a strong sense of humanism in his son, encouraging him to learn Hebrew and to read literature, whereas his mother encouraged him to study the Torah. Wiesel has said his father represented reason, and his mother Sarah promoted faith (Fine 1982:4). In his home, his family spoke Yiddish most of the time, but also German, Hungarian and Romanian. Wiesel had three sisters – older sisters Hilda and Beatrice, and younger sister Tzipora. Beatrice and Hilda survived the war and were reunited with Wiesel at a French orphanage. They eventually emigrated to North America, with Beatrice moving to Montréal, Canada. Tzipora, Shlomo and Sarah did not survive the war.
"We are members of an endangered species," he said in his famously lilting voice that contains traces of his native Romanian intonation, as well as some French and much American flavor. "A survivor has an authority that no one else has."
In 1940 Romania lost the town of Sighet following the Second Vienna Award. In 1944, Wiesel, his family and the rest of the town were placed in one of the two ghettos in Sighet. Wiesel 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, 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 was beaten by a Nazi as he was suffering from dysentery, starvation, and exhaustion. He was later sent to the crematorium, only months before the camp was liberated by the Third Army on April 11.
After World War II, Wiesel taught Hebrew and worked as a choirmaster before becoming a professional journalist. He learned French, which became the language he used most frequently in writing. 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. 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.
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.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.
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.
He recently voiced support for intervention in Darfur, Sudan. 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.In 2002, he inaugurated the Elie Wiesel Memorial House in Sighet in his childhood home.
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. 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.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". Shimon Peres was chosen as the Kadima candidate (and later President) instead.In 2007, Wiesel was awarded the Dayton Literary Peace Prize's Lifetime Achievement Award. 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.
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.
On November 17, 2008, he received an honorary doctorate from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.
In December 2008, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity issued a press release stating that nearly all of the foundation's assets (approximately $15.2 million USD) had been lost through Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, an experience he later spoke about at a Conde Nast roundtable.
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.
On June 5, 2009, Wiesel accompanied US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they toured Buchenwald. Merkel and Wiesel each spoke about Buchenwald in personal terms, with 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.
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.
On May 4, 2010 Wiesel met with President Obama at the White House to discuss Middle East peace relations.
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.
Hunt was convicted on July 21, 2008, and was sentenced to two years, but was given credit for time served and good behavior; he 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 insanity plea. 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." At his sentencing hearing, Hunt apologized and insisted that he no longer denies the Holocaust; however, he continues to maintain and update a blog that denies the Holocaust and is critical of prominent Jewish people.
Wiesel is highly criticized 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. Finklestein also accuses Wiesel of 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 his numerous other assertions on the "uniqueness of Holocaust".
In late February 2010, Wiesel stated that the report chaired by Richard Goldstone on the Gaza Conflict represents "a crime against the Jewish people," a comment for which he was criticized by Richard Silverstein.
Donation to Wiesel Foundation by Pastor John Hagee
On October 25, 2009, Wiesel delivered a speech before 6,000 Christian Zionists at a meeting organized by Christians United for Israel, which was founded and chaired by Pastor John Hagee. The group donated $500,000 to the Wiesel Foundation.
Controversy over historical and religious rights to Jerusalem
On April 15, 2010, Wiesel took out full page ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and elsewhere, in which, among other things, while emphasizing Jewish rights to the city, he denied Muslim connection to Jerusalem, citing the fact that there are no mentions of Jerusalem in the Koran. He said that: "For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture — and not a single time in the Koran." He also claimed that Muslims can settle anywhere in Jerusalem. His position has been criticized by the Americans for Peace Now in an open letter: "Jerusalem is not just a Jewish symbol. It is also a holy city to billions of Christians and Muslims worldwide. It is Israel's capital, but it is also a focal point of Palestinian national aspirations." They also claimed that equal residential rights do not exist in the city. Wiesel has also been criticized in Israel. Haaretz published an article by Yossi Sarid which accused him of being out of touch with the realities of life in Jerusalem. Wiesel's ads, according to unnamed senior American officials, are "not a wise move".
Extended quotation from the text:
"For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother's lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and its joy are part of our collective memory."
Wiesel's view on the Qur'an and Jerusalem is in contrast to Muslim interpretations of implied textual references to Quranic verses and subsequent Islamic tradition.
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)
The Sonderberg Case (2010)
Additionally, as Wiesel has offered a unique and poetic articulation of traditional Jewish thought and identity today, other books sometimes carry introductions or reviews from him:
A Vanished World by Roman Vishniac, forward by Elie Wiesel (published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1986) ISBN 0-374-52023-2, ISBN 978-0-374-52023-6; classic photographs of Eastern European Jewish life from the 1930s
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 0-313-32530-8, ISBN 978-0-313-32530-4 (Covers his personal and literary background, "Night", main novels, and one chapter on his most important non-fiction)