History Podcasts

Elie Wiesel - History

Elie Wiesel - History

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Elie Wiesel


Author, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Elie Wiesel was born in Sighet Romania on Setember 30th 1928. After the German occupied Hungary where Sighet was located, he and his family were forced to remain in the towns ghetto. His family was sent to Auschwitz where his mother and sister where killed. He and his father were left alive to perform labor. When the Soviets neared the camp the two were sent to Buchenwald, where his father was beaten to death.
Buchenwald was libertated on April 11th by the US army.

Acclaimed author and speaker Elie Wiesel has made remembrance of the Holocaust and prevention of similar catastrophes his life's work. Wiesel was the only member of his immediate family to survive the nightmare of the Holocaust. For his efforts on behalf of humanity, Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. A prolific and sensitive author, Wiesel's works include Night (1958), Dawn (1962), A Beggar in Jerusalem (1968) and The Fifth Son (1983).

In addition to novels, Wiesel has produced numerous essays and plays, as well as discourses on Hasidism.


Elie Wiesel Sexually Assaulted Teenager at Charity Event, Woman Claims in 'Me Too' Account

A woman claims that esteemed scholar, philanthropist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel molested her as a teenager, squeezing her "ass" at a charity event in New York three decades ago.

In a "Me Too" post on Medium last week, Jennifer Listman, a former doctoral student at New York University and researcher at Yale University, recounts that the late Wiesel forced himself between her and her boyfriend during a photo shoot at the 1989 memorial event and molested her. As the photographer focused, Wiesel allegedly moved his hand from Listman's right shoulder to her shoulder blade, then down her back where he groped her as the photo was taken.

The hand moved lower. It moved again. This happened slowly, over a period of seconds a physical impossibility that is possible under such circumstances. I was in disbelief. The photographer snapped the photo. Simultaneously, Elie Wiesel's right hand had reached my right ass cheek, which he squeezed.

Wiesel immediately ran, she said, disappearing into the crowd and leaving her "frozen to the spot" where she stood. Listman ran through a list of possible excuses in her head but eventually realized: "I know exactly where my ass is, and that's where his hand was," she told her boyfriend at the time.

That boyfriend, who later married Listman, confirmed the account to Newsweek. David Listman said he did not see Wiesel grab Listman, but he remembers his then-girlfriend's reaction and their conversation after. The couple is no longer married.

Listman was 19 at the time and writes that the squeeze "was a calculated act and worse than you think," saying that she dressed conservatively and looked young for her age, believing Wiesel mistook her for an "ultra-religious underage girl who was unlikely to tell anyone" about the assault.

"In other words, he purposefully chose to molest someone who he assumed was a minor and who would be compelled into silence," she wrote.

Listman said she waited so long to discuss the incident out of fear she would damage Wiesel's legacy or spark anti-Semitism by speaking out about the Holocaust icon, saying she struggled with "anxiety, panic attacks and suicidal depression" as she kept the story inside.

The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity said Listman's post represents the first time anyone has smeared Wiesel's reputation.

"We utterly reject this spurious accusation," the Foundation said in a statement. "Elie Wiesel had a decades-long role as a respected teacher and mentor to countless students. At no time during his long career has anything like this ever been suggested. We are disappointed that Newsweek would republish such a specious and unsubstantiated charge."

Listman's account comes as women are stepping forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of recent and decades-old sexual assault, and she posted it on Twitter with the hashtag "Me Too" to show the magnitude of the problem.

"If people rarely hear about something's existence, they assume it to be rare," Listman wrote. "Now you're hearing about it a lot. Allow yourself, then, to accept the disturbing reality. It is not rare."

When I was nineteen years old, Elie Wiesel grabbed my ass & now I wrote about it. #metoo. Feel free to share.https://t.co/MublEcU2Fw

&mdash Dr. Jenny Listman (@jblistman) October 20, 2017

Listman said she struggled with discussing the sexual assault, knowing Wiesel was lauded as a Nobel Laureate for sharing his stories of the genocide committed by the Nazis during World War II. His book "Night" recounting his experience at Nazi German concentration camps Auschwitz and Buchenwald, is required reading for many schools. He died at 87 in 2016, but his body of work remains the final word on Hitler's Final Solution.

Nearly 30 years after the event, Listman said she is exhausted from the "guilt, fear, and shame" from the 28-year burden of keeping the secret "in a possibly misguided overestimation of my own capacity and responsibility to protect the world from the knowledge of something evil and ugly as if I was required." She does not weigh in on how Wiesel should be remembered in history, but rejects the blame she placed on herself for years to shoulder the burden of protecting people from the truth of his actions.

If you are sad and in mourning for your lost icon, I am not to blame for taking him away from you. I am not to blame for robbing the Jewish community of a leader, the world of a symbol, or his family of their memories. I did not do it. He did. He is the only one responsible for his evil act. He is the only one responsible for building his legacy as a house of cards. You may have to repeat that to yourself a number of times, as I have. He did this, not me. He did it.

Listman's story is likely to create reverberations throughout the Jewish community. The Forward, a Jewish publication, initially published Listman's account but removed it with a note that it did not meet the publication's standards. Many readers challenged Listman's account, defending Wiesel, while individuals on Twitter applauded Listman's bravery in speaking out.

What Happened to Elie Wiesel's Sisters?

Elie Wiesel's older sisters, Hilda and Beatrice, survived their internment at the Auschwitz concentration camp, met Wiesel after the camps were liberated and eventually immigrated to North America. Wiesel's younger sister, Tzipora, died in Auschwitz.

On May 6, 1944, when Wiesel was 15, the Nazis deported the entire Jewish community of Sighet, Hungary, to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Wiesel, his parents and three sisters were all arrested. Separated from his mother and sisters, Wiesel accompanied his father to the labor camp of Buna. For many months, they worked under inhumane conditions, being moved about from camp to camp. In early 1945, just before the Americans liberated the camp, Wiesel's father died in Buchenwald. Wiesel looked for his sisters' names in a list of the survivors of Buchenwald but could not find them. After he moved to an orphanage in Paris, he heard that his sister Hilda was alive and searching for him. When he was reunited with her, she told him that she had gotten engaged and moved to France because she thought he was dead. Almost a year later, he was reunited with Beatrice in Antwerp, Belgium.

Wiesel's mother died with his younger sister at Auschwitz. In an interview, Wiesel said that he carried a photo of Tzipora and that the only time he ever cried was when he spoke of her. She was only 7 years old when she was taken away to her death.

Elie Wiesel, history’s witness

It was a fine April day last week that found Elie Wiesel at Chapman University it was a fine April day too, 58 years earlier, when the gaunt, teenage Wiesel found himself alive and suddenly free to walk out of the Buchenwald concentration camp. In the decades since, Wiesel’s impassioned writing and speaking have won him a Nobel Peace Prize, and a large place in the public intellectual discourse about the Holocaust and the human condition. They have also brought him to Chapman each spring for the last three years as a distinguished presidential fellow, meeting with students and faculty to keep the significance of the Holocaust green in their minds.

Liberation: Patt Morrison’s interview with Elie Wiesel on April 24 said the Buchenwald concentration camp was liberated 58 years ago. It was 68 years ago.

You’ve called for a commission of educators and philosophers in the wake of the Boston bombings. What would that accomplish?

We must understand what happened. Why did they do it? How come human beings decide to do something like that? They just threw the bombs, [at] no matter who. Is it political? Is it religious? Why go to a place where human beings come together just to be together, without any religious jealousy, without any economic problems, and disrupt that with bombs? We must know the reasons to make sure it won’t happen again.

Would knowing why have helped against the rise of Nazi Germany?

Oh, I don’t compare anything to Germany — that was such a horror-filled event. It could have been avoided had the world spoken up against Hitler in the late 1930s, warning Hitler not to go on. I don’t know any other way of fighting evil except denouncing it, its roots and its consequences.

You’ve helped put “Holocaust” into the world’s vocabulary, but has the word been hijacked? Should it be reserved for the Nazi exterminations?

I think yes. It has become trivialized. One day I heard a sportscaster on the radio [who] said for those who lost the game, it was a holocaust! The word became so trivialized, I don’t use it any more. I’m a teacher and a writer my life is words. When I see the denigration of language, it hurts me, and it’s easy to denigrate a word by trivializing it.

What happens when all the survivors are gone, when the Holocaust is just one more awful thing in the history books?

Your question is a painful question about what will happen when the last survivor will be gone. I don’t want to be that one. The burden is so great, I don’t want that. But even when the last one will be gone, it will not be an opening for forgetting. Why? Because people who meet us, who listen to us, we make them into witnesses, and to listen to a witness is to become one. “I know because I saw him, I heard him, and I inherited certain images and certain words and certain experiences.”

In 2007, a Holocaust denier dragged you out of a hotel elevator, apparently hoping to force you to repudiate the truth of the Holocaust. What are the deniers’ motives?

It makes it easier for them to live without doubts, without questions. To me the deniers are morally deranged. And I would never engage them in a debate. I would never dignify them to have a debate with any one of them. To say there was no Holocaust, there was no Auschwitz — I wouldn’t dignify them.

You are a free-speech advocate, but you would like an exception carved out for deniers. Why?

They could [come into] any class I teach, any lecture I give, and say, “Professor Wiesel, how can you prove that?” I show them the number [tattooed on his arm] they say, “What does that prove?’

There are exceptions in law. They should not be given, by the law, the privilege of free speech. This is given to people who believe in truth. But to use lies and falsehoods, not to think of what they are doing to the survivors. Therefore I would say no that is why I would make that illegal. In certain countries in Europe, denying the Holocaust is a felony. But not here. I understand our tradition of free speech is so great, but I nevertheless plead for a kind of exception for this.

You have been outspoken on behalf of victims in genocide and civil war. You advocated intervention in Darfur. How do nations decide when to intervene?

The advice [for] any president or prime minister: Always listen to the victims. The perpetrator may have arguments, but the victim has more than that.

How do you read the Arab Spring?

I think it began well, a kind of spiritual and political rebellion. It was hijacked and turned into something else. Take Syria. The problem with Syria is painful because the Syrian border with Israel is the only one that has never been violated. The Syrians are respecting the border with Israel. And yet their fanatics are fanatics. What to do? If I knew the answer to that!

Why have you kept yourself apart from the discussions of the Israelis and Palestinians?

I speak when asked, I will speak but not to create more controversy. I believe in the absolute fervor of Israel to have peace with the Palestinians I am ready to swear on whatever is holy. I am confident that they will make peace, before many other countries make peace. My feeling is that it will happen soon, because it is enough. The Israeli population wants peace. A large majority are ready to give up territories for that. I am waiting for a miracle. I belong to a people that had miracles, that survived by miracles.

You lost your savings, and the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity lost its $15 million, because of Bernie Madoff’s crimes. Has there been any restitution?

[The foundation is] beginning to get restitution. They won’t get the whole sum. Personally, we [he and his wife] lost everything. One Thursday night, we came home from dinner and the phone rang and we heard he was arrested.

What circle of hell would Dante consign Madoff to?

Sometimes Mormons baptize non-Mormons, including Holocaust victims and survivors, even though the church has told its members not to. You’re laughing …

When someone said, “You are in the process of being converted,” I began laughing, and I said to myself, “It’s so absurd.” I stopped laughing [when] I said to myself, 100 years from now, some researcher, a student, will find something and say, “Hey, I didn’t know Elie Wiesel was a Mormon.” A researcher will say, “Look, the Jews were not killed by the Germans. Mormons were killed by the Germans.” To hurt our sensitivities — how can they do that?

You were born in Romania, lived in France and are a U.S. citizen.

First, I am an American. I lived in France as a stateless person. But I got citizenship here. The first thing I did, I got a passport. I never had a passport. I kept it in my pocket. And it’s always with me, in my pocket.

The plight of refugees occupies much of your work. How should the world treat political, economic, environmental refugees?

I also was a refugee. I came to America as a stateless person, therefore I am sentimentally close to the refugees. Whatever they are, wherever they are, I don’t know how, but I’m on their side. My obsession is the otherness of the other. We cannot humiliate the other by denying his or her otherness. The sin of humiliation — I came to America as a journalist, and in the South I saw the attitude toward blacks at the time. It was the law. The law of the land was to humiliate an entire race.

Buchenwald was liberated in April. On the anniversary, do you reflect on that deliverance?

Naturally. That day, we were supposed to leave the camp. Had we left, we would have been killed, like those who left the day before. We were already at the gate. There was an air alarm and the inmates had to go back to the block. And the American soldiers came.

You survived, but your father and your mother and sister died. So is it random ? Does God make these decisions?

If you believe in God, God makes these decisions. But we don’t know why. Why did he decide me, when others were worthier? To this day I don’t know.

I say to myself, since I did survive, my duty is to do something with my survival. I try. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded, but I try.

Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes

This interview was edited and excerpted from a taped transcript. An archive of Morrison’s interviews can be found at latimes.com/pattasks.

A cure for the common opinion

Get thought-provoking perspectives with our weekly newsletter.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.

Patt Morrison is a writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, where as a member of two reporting teams, she has a share of two Pulitzer Prizes. Her public broadcast programs have earned her six Emmys, her two non-fiction books were bestsellers and Pink’s, the Hollywood hot dog stand, named its veggie dog after her.

More From the Los Angeles Times

The problem for the NCAA is that its definition of amateurism — which critics say looks like exploitation — appears to be losing its legal safe harbor.

A bill in Congress would provide a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 5 million undocumented immigrants who risked their lives to work on the COVID-19 front lines.

The president’s new violence prevention program invites police involvement in mental health and social services — a failed move in the past.

We shouldn’t let tenants get evicted while the state sits on billions of dollars in federal rental assistance. A moratorium on evictions needs to be extended.

In a rare interview, Joni Mitchell talks with Cameron Crowe about the state of her singing voice and the making of “Blue,” 50 years after its release.

These trips will take you to priceless places, and our pro tips will help you dig deeper.

Colt Brennan was a star football player at Hawaii who finished third in Heisman Trophy voting before years of substance abuse problems cost him his life.

Los Angeles has reopened, but many first responders remain unvaccinated. Just over 50% of the city’s firefighters and police officers have gotten one shot.

Messenger to Mankind

Elie Wiesel was born in the small town of Sighet in Transylvania, where people of different languages and religions have lived side by side for centuries, sometimes peacefully, sometimes in bitter conflict. The region was long claimed by both Hungary and Romania. In the 20th century, it changed hands repeatedly, a hostage to the fortunes of war.

Elie Wiesel, age 15, shortly before deportation. (Courtesy of Elie Wiesel)

Elie Wiesel grew up in the close-knit Jewish community of Sighet. While the family spoke Yiddish at home, they read newspapers and conducted their grocery business in German, Hungarian or Romanian as the occasion demanded. Ukrainian, Russian and other languages were also widely spoken in the town. Elie began religious studies in classical Hebrew almost as soon as he could speak. The young boy&rsquos life centered entirely on his religious studies. He loved the mystical tradition and folk tales of the Hassidic sect of Judaism, to which his mother&rsquos family belonged. His father, though religious, encouraged the boy to study the modern Hebrew language and concentrate on his secular studies. The first years of World War II left Sighet relatively untouched. Although the village changed hands from Romania to Hungary, the Wiesel family believed they were safe from the persecutions suffered by Jews in Germany and Poland.

The secure world of Wiesel&rsquos childhood ended abruptly with the arrival of the Nazis in Sighet in 1944. The Jewish inhabitants of the village were deported en masse to concentration camps in Poland. The 15-year-old boy was separated from his mother and sister immediately on arrival in Auschwitz. He never saw them again. He managed to remain with his father for the next year as they were worked almost to death, starved, beaten, and shuttled from camp to camp on foot, or in open cattle cars, in driving snow, without food, proper shoes, or clothing. In the last months of the war, Wiesel&rsquos father succumbed to dysentery, starvation, exhaustion and exposure.

April 16, 1945. Victims of the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the American troops of the 80th Division. Amongst them is Elie Wiesel (7th from the left on the middle bunk next to the vertical post) who went on to become an internationally acclaimed writer and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace. (H Miller/Getty Images)

After the war, the teenaged Wiesel found asylum in France, where he learned for the first time that his two older sisters had survived the war. Wiesel mastered the French language and studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, while supporting himself as a choir master and teacher of Hebrew. He became a professional journalist, writing for newspapers in both France and Israel.

Behind the once electrically-secured barbed crematorium of Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, where young Elie Wiesel was imprisoned by the Nazi regime. (Unkel/ullstein picture via Getty Images)

For ten years, he observed a self-imposed vow of silence and wrote nothing about his wartime experience. In 1955, at the urging of the Catholic writer Francois Mauriac, he set down his memories in Yiddish, in a 900-page work entitled Un die welt hot geshvign (And the world kept silent). The book was first published in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Wiesel compressed the work into a 127-page French adaptation, La Nuit (Night), but several years passed before he was able to find a publisher for the French or English versions of the work. Even after Wiesel found publishers for the French and English translations, the book sold few copies.

President Carter observes a Day of Remembrance with Elie Wiesel at the U.S. Capitol. Memorial candles are lit to commemorate the 11 million who died in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. (UPI/Corbis-Bettman)

In 1956, while he was in New York reporting on the United Nations, Elie Wiesel was struck by a taxi cab. His injuries confined him to a wheelchair for almost a year. Unable to renew the French document which had allowed him to travel as a &ldquostateless&rdquo person, Wiesel applied successfully for American citizenship. Once he recovered, he remained in New York and became a feature writer for the Yiddish-language newspaper, The Jewish Daily Forward (Der forverts). Wiesel continued to write books in French, including the semi-autobiographical novels L&rsquoAube (Dawn), and Le Jour (translated as The Accident). In his novel La Ville de la Chance (translated as The Town Beyond the Wall ), Wiesel imagined a return to his home town, a journey he did not undertake in life until after the book was published.

April 22, 1993: President Bill Clinton lights the eternal flame at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with help from Council Chairman Harvey Meyerhoff and Founding Chairman Elie Wiesel. The eternal flame stands in memory of six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. (Diana Walker/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

As these and other books brought Wiesel to the attention of readers and critics, translations of Night found an audience at last, and Wiesel became an unofficial spokesman for the survivors of the Holocaust. At the same time, he took an increasing interest in the plight of persecuted Jews in the Soviet Union. He first traveled to the USSR in 1965 and reported on his travels in The Jews of Silence. His 1968 account of the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors appeared in English as A Beggar in Jerusalem. In time, Wiesel was able to use his fame to plead for justice for oppressed peoples in the Soviet Union, South Africa, Vietnam, Biafra and Bangladesh. In 1976, Elie Wiesel was named Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities at Boston University. He also taught at the City University of New York and was a visiting scholar at Yale University. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Elie Wiesel Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. Wiesel was a driving force behind the establishment of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. His words, &ldquoFor the dead and the living, we must bear witness,&rdquo are engraved in stone at the entrance to the museum. In 1985 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, and in 1986, the Nobel Prize for Peace. &ldquoWise men remember best,&rdquo Mr. Wiesel said in his Nobel lecture. &ldquoAnd yet, it is surely human to forget, even to want to forget&hellipOnly God and God alone can and must remember everything.&rdquo In 1992, President George H.W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States.

Elie Wiesel with his wife, Marion, at the opening of the Academie Universelle des Cultures in Paris, France, 1993.

In the midst of his activities as a human rights activist, Wiesel continued his career as a literary artist. He wrote plays including Zalmen or the Madness of God and The Trial of God (Le Proces de Shamgorod). His other novels include The Gates of the Forest, The Oath, The Testament, and The Fifth Son. His essays and short stories have been collected in the volumes Legends of Our Time, One Generation After, and A Jew Today. The English translation of his memoirs was published in 1995 as All Rivers Run to the Sea. A second volume of memoirs, And the Sea Is Never Full, appeared in 2000.

A deeply moving appearance by Elie Wiesel, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, during a symposium session at the 2007 International Achievement Summit in Washington, D.C. Speaking in hushed tones, Wiesel held the delegates spellbound as he described how the murder of his family, and his own experience in the concentration camps of World War II, inspired him to travel the world as an author and witness &mdash exposing injustice wherever it arises.

As his international fame grew, Wiesel spoke out on behalf of the victims of genocide and oppression all over the world, from Bosnia to Darfur. Although he became known to millions for his human rights activism, he by no means abandoned the art of fiction. His later novels included A Mad Desire to Dance (2009) and The Sonderberg Case (2010), a tale set in contemporary New York City, with a cast of characters including Holocaust survivors, Germans, American emigrants to Israel and New York literati. Elie Wiesel and his wife, Marion, made their home in New York City. His wife, the former Marion Erster Rose, was a Holocaust survivor they married in 1969. Since Wiesel wrote his books in French, Marion Wiesel often collaborated with him on their English translations. He died at home in Manhattan, at the age of 87.

Elie Wiesel Timeline and World Events: From 1952

Elie Wiesel 1952
After studying at the Sorbonne, Elie Wiesel begins travelling around the world as a reporter for the Tel Aviv newspaper Yediot Ahronot.

During an interview with the distinguished French writer, Francois Mauriac, Elie is persuaded to write about his experiences in the death camps.

Elie Wiesel wrote a nearly 900-page account of his concentration camp years, a shortened version of which was published the next year under the title Un di velt hot geshvign (And the World Stayed Silent).

Shortly after moving to New York City to be a permanent correspondent, Elie Wiesel is struck by a taxicab.

Recovered from his injuries but still a stateless person with expired visas, Elie Wiesel naturalizes to the United States.

La Nuit (appearing in 1960 in English translation as Night) is published, and has since been translated into more than 30 languages.

Dawn is published.

Following his conviction for crimes against the Jewish people, Adolf Eichmann is executed in Jerusalem.

Elie Wiesel becomes an American citizen.

Elie Wiesel returns to Sighet and visits his childhood home.

He receives the Ingram Merill award and publishes The Town Beyond the Wall.

The Gates of the Forest and The Jews of Silence are published.

Legends of our Time, essays and stories, is published. Elie Wiesel wins the Prix Medicis.

Elie Wiesel marries Marion.

A Beggar in Jerusalem and One Generation After are published.

His son, Shlomo Elisha, is born. Elie Wiesel also serves as Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City University of New York (1972–1976).

In Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana comes to power in a military coup.

Elie Wiesel receives the Jewish Heritage Award, Haifa University, and the Holocaust Memorial Award, New York Society of Clinical Psychologists.

Teaching was always been central to Elie Wiesel's work. Since 1976, he has been the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, where he also holds the title of University Professor. He is a member of the Faculty in the Department of Religion as well as the Department of Philosophy.

Egyptian president Anwar Sadat makes the first visit by an Arab leader to Israel since the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948.

President Jimmy Carter appoints Elie Wiesel as Chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust.

The United States Congress, by unanimous vote, establishes the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.

Elie Wiesel receives the Prix Liber Inter, France, the S.Y. Agnon Medal, and the Jabotinsky Medal, State of Israel.

The Testament is published.

Elie Wiesel is the first Henry Luce Visiting Scholar in Humanities and Social Thought at Yale University (1982–1983).

A symbolic ground breaking ceremony is held at the site of the future United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

President Ronald Reagan presents Elie Wiesel with the US Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement.

In December, Elie Wiesel wins the Nobel Prize for Peace. Soon after, he and his wife, Marion, establish The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, an organization to fight indifference, intolerance and injustice.

Elie Wiesel testifies at the trial of Klaus Barbie.

The United States signs the Genocide Convention.

Twilight, a novel, is published.

From the Kingdom of Memory is published.

Sages and Dreamers, Portraits and Legends from the Bible, the Talmud, and the Hasidic Tradition is published.

Elie Wiesel gives address at the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Museum opens to the public.

In response to the atrocities occurring in Bosnia, the United Nations Security Council issues resolution 827, establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. It is the first international criminal tribunal since Nuremberg.

Extremist leaders of Rwanda’s Hutu majority launch a campaign of extermination against the country’s Tutsi minority. In October, the UN Security Council extends the mandate of the ICTY to include a separate but linked tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.

All Rivers Run to the Sea is published.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda issues the world’s first conviction for genocide when Jean-Paul Akayesu is judged guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for acts he engaged in and oversaw as mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba.

And the Sea is Never Full and King Solomon and his Magic Ring, a book for children, are published.


Elie Wiesel addresses the Days of Remembrance ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, Washington DC, saying

"How does one mourn for six million people who died? How many candles does one light? How many prayers does one recite? Do we know how to remember the victims, their solitude, their helplessness? They left us without a trace, and we are their trace."

He is granted the rank of Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor, France (Commandeur, 1984 Grand Officier, 1990).

President Iliescu of Romania presents Wiesel with "The Star of Romania."

In November Wiesel addresses the Tribute to Holocaust Survivors, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC.

In July Elie Wiesel delivers remarks “On the Atrocities in Sudan” at the Darfur Emergency Summit, convened at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York on July 14, 2004, by the American Jewish World Service and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In September US Secretary of State Colin Powell testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "genocide has been committed in Darfur."

Elie Wiesel receives the Commander's Cross from the Republic of Hungary and delivers the Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania. Wiesel was chairman of the commission.

Elie Wiesel receives the Man of the Year award from the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Light of Truth award from the International Campaign for Tibet, and publishes The Time of the Uprooted, a novel.

Elie Wiesel travels to Auschwitz with Oprah Winfrey.

The inaugural United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Award is bestowed on Nobel laureate and Founding Museum Chairman Elie Wiesel—and renamed in his honor—for his singular role in establishing and advancing the cause of Holocaust remembrance.

Elie Wiesel Biography

Elie Wiesel, age 15, shortly before deportation

Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 in Sighet, a small village in northern Transylvania, Romania, an area that was part of Hungary from 1941 to 1945. Wiesel was the only son of four children of Shlomo, a grocer, and his wife, Sarah (Feig) Wiesel. He was devoted to the study of the Torah, the Talmud and the mystical teachings of Hasidism and the Cabala.

The Nazis, led by Adolf Eichmann, entered Hungary in the spring of 1944 with orders to exterminate an estimated 600,000 Jews in under six weeks. Wiesel was 15 years old when the Nazis deported him and his family to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

His mother and younger sister died in the gas chambers on the night of their arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau. He and his father were deported to Buchenwald where his father died before the camp was liberated on April 11, 1945. Wiesel did not learn until after the war that his two older sisters, Hilda and Bea, also survived.

After receiving medical treatment, Wiesel went to France with other orphans but he remained stateless. He stayed in France, living first in Normandy and later in Paris working as a tutor and translator. He eventually began writing for various French and Jewish publications. But Wiesel vowed not to write about his experiences at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald because he doubted his ability to accurately convey the horror.

Wiesel’s self-imposed silence came to an end in the mid-1950s after he interviewed the Nobel Prize-winning French novelist François Mauriac. Deeply moved by Wiesel’s story, Mauriac urged him to tell the world of his experiences and to “bear witness” for the millions of people who had been silenced. The result was Night, the story of a teenage boy who survived the camps and was devastated by the realization that the God he once worshiped had allowed his people to be destroyed. The Nation’s Daniel Stern has described Night as “undoubtedly the single most powerful literary relic of the Holocaust.”

Night was originally written in Yiddish as an 862-page work called Un die Welt Hot Geshvign (And the World Kept Silent). He pared this manuscript down to an intense first-person account of his experiences. Wiesel translated the manuscript from Yiddish into French and retitled it La Nuit (Night). It was published in 1958, and the English edition was published in 1960. Night is written in a taut, spare style. Wiesel’s controlled language allows the events to speak for themselves and is in sharp contrast to the reality about which it speaks.

Since the publication of Night, Wiesel has written more than 40 books. He became an American citizen in 1963. In 1969, Wiesel married Austrian-born writer and editor Marion Erster Rose, also a survivor of the Holocaust. His wife has edited and translated many of his works. They have a son, Shlomo Elisha, born in 1972. They live in New York.

Since 1976, Wiesel has been the Andrew W. Mellon professor in the humanities at Boston University, where he also holds the title of university professor. Previously, he served as distinguished professor of Judaic studies at the City University of New York (1972–1976) and the first Henry Luce visiting scholar in humanities and social thought at Yale University (1982–1983).

Wiesel has received numerous awards for his literary and human rights activities. These include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and the Medal of Liberty Award and the rank of Grand Officer in the French Legion of Honor. President Jimmy Carter appointed Wiesel chairman of the United State Holocaust Memorial Council in 1978. In 1986, Elie Wiesel won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Shortly thereafter, Elie Wiesel and his wife established The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.

Wiesel has defended the cause of Soviet Jews, Nicaragua’s Miskito Indians, Argentina’s “disappeared,” Cambodian refugees, the Kurds, South African apartheid victims, famine victims in Africa and more recently the victims and prisoners in the former Yugoslavia.

In presenting the Nobel Peace Prize, Egil Aarvik, chair of the Nobel Committee, said this about Wiesel:

“His mission is not to gain the world’s sympathy for victims or the survivors. His aim is to awaken our conscience. Our indifference to evil makes us partners in the crime. This is the reason for his attack on indifference and his insistence on measures aimed at preventing a new Holocaust. We know that the unimaginable has happened. What are we doing now to prevent its happening again?”

Elie Wiesel - History

Story and Silence: Transcendence in the Work of Elie Wiesel
By Gary Henry

Elie Wiesel's literary work prompted one reviewer to recall Isaac Bashevis Singer's definition of Jews as "a people who can't sleep themselves and let nobody else sleep," and to predict, "While Elie Wiesel lives and writes, there will be no rest for the wicked, the uncaring or anyone else." [1] If uneasiness is the result of Wiesel's work, it is not a totally unintended result. Since the publication of Night in 1958, Wiesel, a Jewish survivor of the Nazi death camps, has borne a persistent, excruciating literary witness to the Holocaust. His works of fiction and non-fiction, his speeches and stories have each had the same intent: to hold the conscience of Jew and non-Jew (and, he would say, even the conscience of God) in a relentless focus on the horror of the Holocaust and to make this, the worst of all evils, impossible to forget.

Wiesel refuses to allow himself or his readers to forget the Holocaust because, as a survivor, he has assumed the role of messenger. It is his duty to witness as a "messenger of the dead among the living," [2] and to prevent the evil of the victims' destruction from being increased by being forgotten. But he does not continue to retell the tales of the dead only to make life miserable for the living, or even to insure that such an atrocity will not happen again. Rather, Elie Wiesel is motivated by a need to wrestle theologically with the Holocaust.

The grim reality of the annihilation of six million Jews presents a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to further theological thought: how is it possible to believe in God after what happened? The sum of Wiesel's work is a passionate effort to break through this barrier to new understanding and faith. It is to his credit that he is unwilling to retreat into easy atheism, just as he refuses to bury his head in the sand of optimistic faith. What Wiesel calls for is a fierce, defiant struggle with the Holocaust, and his work tackles a harder question: how is it possible not to believe in God after what happened? [3]

It is not enough merely to value Wiesel for the poignancy of his experience and then summarily write him off as another "death of God" novelist. As bleak and nihilistic as some of his work may be, taken as a whole his writings are intensely theological. The death of God is not of more interest to Wiesel than the impossibility of God's death. And if this paradox is bewildering, it must be remembered that the Hasidism in which Wiesel's work is rooted is fascinated, rather than repelled by a paradox. Wiesel himself says, "As for God, I did speak about Him. I do little else in my books." [4] How Elie Wiesel speaks about God is the concern of this essay.

Elie Wiesel was born on Simchat Torah in 1928 and named "Eliezer" after his father's father. Sighet, an insignificant Hungarian town in an area which now belongs to Romania, was the place of his birth and early childhood. He was the only son among four children in his family. The father was an intelligent, religious man, a hard-working storekeeper and an important leader in the Jewish community of Sighet. The mother, too, possessed a warm Hasidic piety and was a cultivated woman. She was the daughter of a renowned rebbe and was, Wiesel says, "a strange mixture of an educated person and a Hasid, with the fervor of a Hasid, a firm believer in the Rebbe and, at the same time, open to secularism." [5]

Wiesel's own life as a boy was also something of a strange mixture. On the one hand, he gave himself fervently and almost completely to the Hasidic way of life. From early till late each day, ten or eleven months out of the year, he studied Torah, Talmud, and Kabbalah. He prayed and fasted and eagerly longed to penetrate the mysteries of Jewish mysticism, firmly settled in the conviction that he would be drawn "into eternity, into that time where question and answer become one." [6] His study and piety were of such intensity that he had little time for the usual joys of childhood and he became chronically weak and sickly from his habitual fasting.

Yet, both his mother and father urged him to combine modern secular studies with his devotion to Talmud and Kabbalah. Of his mother, he says, "Her dream was to make me into a doctor of philosophy I should be both a Ph.D. and a rabbi." [7] And his father made him learn modern Hebrew, a skill with which he was later able to make his livelihood as a journalist for an Israeli newspaper. Wiesel remembers his father, an "emancipated," if religious Jew, saying to him, "Listen, if you want to study Talmud, if you want to study Kabbalah, whatever you want to study is all right with me and I'll help you. But you must give me one hour a day for modern study." [8] In that hour a day Wiesel digested books which his father brought him on psychology, astronomy, modern Hebrew literature, and music.

All of this study came to a halt in 1944 when, at the age of fifteen, Wiesel was deported with his family to the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald. There he and his father were separated from the mother and the girls. Early on, Wiesel's mother and youngest sister were killed by the Germans, and before the prisoners were liberated by the Allies, his father died of malnourishment and mistreatment.

After the liberation, Wiesel was sent to France along with four hundred other orphans. He spent two years as a ward of a French Jewish welfare agency, attempting to resume his religious studies. As the result of the publication of his photograph in a French newspaper, his two older sisters, who had survived the camps, were able to make contact with him. He had learned French and assumed French nationality by 1947 when he entered the Sorbonne. There he studied, among other things, philosophy and psychology. The Tel Aviv newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, hired him as a Paris correspondent, and because of the hard work of supporting himself as a journalist, he left the Sorbonne without submitting the six hundred-page doctoral dissertation he had written comparing Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist concepts of asceticism.

His journalistic work became his occupation and carried him to the Far East, to Palestine, and finally to New York in 1956. He was critically injured in an accident in New York and, unable to return to France, he became a U.S. citizen in 1963. He settled in New York and has lived there since with his wife, Marion, whom he married in 1968. Wiesel became a teacher in 1972 when he was invited to be Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at City College in New York. He filled that position until recently when he became Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities at Boston University.

Wiesel's literary output has been enormous. In addition to his sixteen books, he has written a steady stream of essays and articles in a variety of publications, he has given numerous addresses and lectures, and he has been the subject of more than a few interviews and documentary films. Along with all this teaching, speaking, and writing, Wiesel has given generously of his time to a host of projects within the Jewish community. He is a man clearly possessed of a drive to justify every second of his existence.

Wiesel's literature is all of a piece with his life. His books, even the novels, are autobiographical. And each of them is a vital part of the mosaic formed by his past experiences, his spiritual growth, and his present activity. His books are far from being the products of some peripheral avocation, and still farther from being mere entertainment pieces. They mirror his own soul, and they were written in fulfillment of a mission which encompasses not only his writing, but everything else he does.

Since his books are so autobiographical and so intimately connected to one another and to his life, development is to be expected within Wiesel's work. Read in the order they were written, his books trace the torturous odyssey which has been his inner struggle to deal with the Holocaust. The early works are saturated with black despair, but by small degrees the successive pieces move toward Wiesel's triumphant achievement of faith in Ani Maamin: A Song Lost and Found Again. Even the titles of the early books suggest this progression: Night, Dawn, Le Jour (unfortunately entitled The Accident in the English edition).

Wiesel's first book, Night, is at the center of all he has written since. It is a somber, moving memoir of his faith-destroying experience in the death camps. Wiesel says of this book,

Night, my first narrative, was an autobiographical story, a kind of testimony of one witness speaking of his own life, his own death. All kinds of options were available: suicide, madness, killing, political action, hate, friendship. I note all of these options: faith, rejection of faith, blasphemy, atheism, denial, rejection of man, despair and in each book I explore one aspect. In Dawn I explore the political action in The Accident, suicide in The Town Beyond the Wall, madness in The Gates of the Forest, faith and friendship in A Beggar in Jerusalem, history, the return. All the stories are one story except that I build them in concentric circles. The center is the same and is in Night. [9]

In addition to this successive exploration of possible responses to the Holocaust, there is another pattern to Wiesel's work: namely, the successive treatment in an entire book of one of the characters in Night.

Night was the foundation all the rest is commentary. In each book, I take one character out of Night and give him a refuge, a book, a tale, a name, a destiny of his own. [10]

This structural center of Elie Wiesel's entire literary corpus comprises only 127 pages in its English paperback edition. When it was originally issued in Argentina in 1955, written in Yiddish, it ran to some 800 pages. The material cut out for the French edition in 1958 has provided the substance of much of Wiesel's subsequent "fiction" — so the novels are quite literally, as Wiesel says, commentary on Night.

Night, of course, stands for the Holocaust. The book poses the problem and depicts the abysmal blackness out of which Wiesel has struggled to free himself. In Night the young faith of the Hasid is devoured in the fires of the crematoria. God dies, and Wiesel’s life is cursed.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never. [11]

Among other horrors, Wiesel and his fellow prisoners were forced to watch the hanging of a young boy by the Germans. The child was still alive when he filed past the scaffold and heard someone behind him wonder aloud, "Where is God? Where is He?"

And I heard a voice within me answer him: "Where is He? Here He is — He is hanging here on this gallows. " That night the soup tasted of corpses. [12]

It is a long distance between this bitter, raging despair and the eloquent hope expressed in Wiesel's cantata, Ani Maamin, written for the hundredth anniversary of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and performed at Carnegie Hall in November, 1973. The title of this work means "I Believe" and refers to one of the thirteen Maimonidean Articles of Faith: "I believe in the coming of the Messiah." The cantata portrays the complaint to God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in behalf of the Holocaust victims. When their plea is answered only by God's silence, the patriarchs turn away from God to share the fate of the victims. Ani Maamin becomes not the affirmation of the pious Jews who went to their deaths singing these words as a hymn, but a defiant "I believe" in spite of what man has done and God has allowed to be done. In this statement of faith, which is the culmination of Wiesel's struggle with the Holocaust, there is neither superficial piety nor facile atheism. Instead there is the vigorous determination of a "survivor of the holocaust who does not put up with faceless fate but struggles for redemption with and against our 'cruel and kind Lord' whose revelation in our times is only a deepening of his hiddenness." [13]

Elie Wiesel is a witness, a teller of tales, and a writer, in that order. Each of these roles is determined by the Holocaust. As a survivor, Wiesel has no choice but to tell all who will listen what the silenced victims would tell if they could speak. He is a self-appointed witness in their behalf.

I remember during those years, when we were dreamless old children in a kingdom called Night, we had but one wish left but it was a burning desire: to bear witness. [14]

To that painful task of witness-bearing Wiesel is giving his life. His books, all of them, point to the Holocaust, and even the works of fiction are "not novels but pages of testimony." [15]

Wiesel has become the "spiritual archivist of the Holocaust" [16] for profound reasons. As we have seen, he believes he owes this work to the victims. Their dying wish was that at least one of their number might live to tell how they died — and Wiesel senses an awesome responsibility to testify for them. But also, he has said, "I write in order to understand as much as to be understood." [17] His testimony has been a means of coming to terms with the events themselves. And most fundamentally, he cherishes the hope that his witness may diminish the amount of suffering in the world. He can say bluntly of himself and other witnesses who carry the same burden, "We didn't write for any accepted purpose except for the extraordinary purpose of saving mankind." [18]

Wiesel's witness as survivor is twofold. There is a witness he must bear, certainly, to the non-Jew, the "executioner." But, as well, he must witness to the Jew, the "victim." In each case the testimony pricks the conscience.

Mainly, my position in the Jewish community is really the position of a witness from within and a defender from without. This goes, of course, along with my ideas about the duties and the privileges of a storyteller — of a writer. From the inside, from within the community, I am critical. If Jews are criticized or attacked from the outside, then I try to defend them. What I try to do (it's very hard) is to reconcile the two attitudes: not to be too strong, too sharp, too critical when I am inside and not to be a liar on the outside. [19]

Wiesel's book, The Jews of Silence, is an illustration of the kind of thing he wishes to do. In testifying to the plight of Soviet Jewry, a situation with many parallels to the German Holocaust, Wiesel hotly denounces the non-Jewish community for its injustice in this affair, but he also has sharp words for the world-wide Jewish community and its indifference to the problem. When evils of such magnitude are occurring, no one is completely innocent — and Wiesel has taken it upon himself to witness in such a way that our guilt can never sink into unconscious forgetfulness.

But Wiesel is more than a bearer of testimony. He is an artist — a storyteller, a writer. True to his Hasidic roots, he believes in the power of the tale.

When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: "Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer." And again the miracle would be accomplished. Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: "I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient." It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: "I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient." And it was sufficient.

God made man because he loves stories. [20]

In the Kabbalah, there is the story of shvirat hakelim, "the breaking of the vessels." This is the story of what went wrong at the Creation, the cosmic cataclysm. Wiesel says that his tale, and it is the same tale in one form or another, is of another cataclysm which took place a generation ago in the Holocaust. In a time when this tale can and must be told, all other stories become insignificant.

Wiesel's work renders the tale of the Holocaust into literary art. But because of the subject, the art is more than art. Since Auschwitz, literature can no longer be a mere diversion. The writer must write as witness.

We are witnesses in the cruelest and strongest sense of the word. And we cannot stop. We must speak. This is what I am trying to do in my writing. I don't believe the aim of literature is to entertain, to distract, to amuse. It used to be. I don't believe in it anymore. [21]

When asked what it means to be a writer today, Wiesel has consistently said that it means to correct injustices, to alleviate suffering, to create hope. Precisely for this reason, the witness/storyteller/writer's work is disheartening. It so rarely accomplishes what it must accomplish.

All this will tell you why a person of my time who has to be a witness for himself (and I try to do it in my writing as much as I can), literally feels despair. I think that never before has Judaism reached such a spiritual low. There is no idealism anymore. There is no awareness. [22]

Wiesel's role as witness so thoroughly governs his role as writer that he must continue to write whether his testimony meets with any response or not.

One must write out of one's own experience, out of one's own identity. One must cater to no one one must remain truthful. If one is read, it's good if one is not read, it's too bad. But that should not influence the writer. [23]

And, most important, the witness' work as writer demands that he write as a moral man. The literary artist can no longer be excused if he writes one way and lives another. Life and story must blend in ethical harmony. The writer is bound in a moral commitment by the very tale he tells. The making and reading of literature is no frivolous business.

True writers want to tell the story simply because they believe they can do something with it — their lives are not fruitless and are not spent in vain. True listeners want to listen to stories to enrich their own lives and to understand them. What is happening to me happens to you. Both the listener and the reader are participants in the same story and both make it the story it is. I speak only of true writers and true readers and true listeners. As for the others, they are entertainers and their work doesn't really matter. I don't want to go into names but there are very few great storytellers and great writers today. Actually, I believe that today literature has changed its purpose and its dimension. Once upon a time it was possible to write l'art pour l'art, art for art's sake. People were looking only for beauty. Now we know that beauty without an ethical dimension cannot exist. We have seen what they did with culture in Germany during the war what they called culture did not have any ethical purpose or motivation. I believe in the ethical thrust, in the ethical function, in the human adventure in science or in culture or in writing. [24]

The witness begins with his testimony. In Wiesel's case this testimony concerns the Holocaust. He becomes a true writer when his testimony is a tale, a story. The art of the witness, then, is a rendering of testimony into story. The difficulty of this lies in the attempt to juxtapose past event with present situation in a story which is truly artistic: that is, not merely beautiful, but ethically significant. Wiesel is cut off from the victims whose tale he tells (he survived), and he is cut off from his readers (they have not seen what he has seen). The monumental task which Wiesel has attempted has been to bring together in his tales the disparate worlds of the Holocaust victims in the past and of his post-Holocaust readers in the present. Wiesel lives in both worlds, yet hardly belongs to either. His effort has been to force into an imaginative form, a story, these disjunctive worlds. The result has been something of a literary anomaly: "autobiographical" novels.

The survivor's alienation from both past and present and its implications for the witness as writer are best seen in Wiesel's use of the concept of "madness." The witness as writer is in the position of Moshe the Beadle in Night. Able to return to Sighet as a survivor from an early deportation, Moshe was disbelieved and considered mad when he tried to tell the tale of those who did not escape. Moshe the Madman appears in nearly all of Wiesel's work, and he even becomes the main character in one novel, The Oath. As a "messenger of the dead among the living," who attempts with his tales to save the living but is regarded as insane, Moshe is a paradigm for Wiesel of the madman as witness.

Wiesel is qualified to speak of madness. During his three years at the Sorbonne, he specialized in clinical psychology, and the New York Society of Clinical Psychologists has honored him for his perceptive treatment of madness in his writing. [25] This work, his concentration camp experiences, and his Hasidic background unite to make madness one of the leading motifs in his books.

According to Wiesel, there are several kinds of madness. First, there is clinical insanity. Wiesel cautions, however, that what is often considered madness in this sense may not be insanity at all, but merely dissent from the "collective neurosis" of society. In a society gone "mad," the sane person will be judged mad, even though it is society and not he that suffers from skewed vision. Just as a sane inmate in an insane asylum would be judged mad by the other inmates, so anyone whose vision is threatening or disturbing to "normal" society is considered mad. Wiesel tells a Hasidic tale to make the point.

Once upon a time there was a king who knew that the next harvest would be cursed. Whosoever would eat from it would go mad. And so he ordered an enormous granary built and stored there all that remained from the last crop. He entrusted the key to his friend and this is what he told him: "When my subjects and their king have been struck with madness, you alone will have the right to enter the storehouse and eat uncontaminated food. Thus you will escape the malediction. But in exchange, your mission will be to cover the earth, going from country to country, from town to town, from one street to the other, from one man to the other, telling tales, ours — and you will shout, you will shout with all your might: 'Good people, do not forget! What is at stake is your life, your survival! Do not forget, do not forget!'" [26]

Of course the plan was unsuccessful. The man's tale was disbelieved and he was dismissed as a madman. This is the position the Holocaust witness finds himself in when he tells his tale.

This madness of the witness is a "prophetic" madness. It is the madness of an individual who has seen things inaccessible to others, and is therefore separated from other men by the very fact of his closeness to God. Wiesel views this type of madman as a messenger of God and says, "God loves madmen. They're the only ones he allows near him." [27] The strangeness of his tale renders the prophet an anti-social misfit, a madman, in the eyes of his contemporaries. Thus, prophecy has long been considered a species of madness. [28] Like Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, the prophetic madman is a lonely figure, separated from the world by the witness he bears and yet compelled to live in the world as a man among men.

There is still another type of madness: moral madness. Thomas Merton has written that "the whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless." [29] When hate and indifference are the norm in society, one must become morally mad to protest against society's inhumanity. In the Germany of 1943, one had to choose moral madness to avoid being swallowed up by the prevailing "sanity." In such a context, moral indifference is the type of insanity against which moral madness must protest. This moral madness, a voluntary, deliberate thing, [30] is no easy "out" or surrender. It is a courageous identification with the sufferers, a true loving and caring. It is the willing assumption of moral responsibility in a society whose conscience is asleep. Not to accept moral madness is to opt for true insanity. Wiesel says,

I believe that reality disappointed us so much that I seek something in another reality. So what is the other reality? Madness. I believe that anyone who was in the camps came out deranged. There is the basis of madness in every person who survived. When you have seen what they have seen, how can you not keep some madness? This in itself would be mad — to remain normal. [31]

It is as Kahlil Gibran has put it.

The human heart cries out for help the human soul implores us for deliverance but we do not heed their cries, for we neither hear nor understand. But the man who hears and understands we call mad, and flee from him. [32]

In his books, Elie Wiesel attempts to hear and understand, and to diminish the suffering.

Following the destruction of the second Temple, the Jewish people were faced with two options: to end their suffering by denying their faith and assimilating into society, or to go on and rebuild on the ashes. Wiesel suggests that the Talmud was the "temple" constructed when the Jewish people chose the second option. He says that "the Talmud was conceived and written as an act of defiance." [33] It was as if the Sages wished to tell God they refused to concede and quit believing. This defiance of theirs confirmed the ancient message of Judaism that, while man cannot begin (only God can do that), it is man's duty not to accept an imposed end. "To begin is not in the realm of possibilities only to begin again, over and over again — and therein lies [man's] strength. And his glory, too." [34]

Defiance as a means of transcending despair, and even as a means of survival, is characteristic of the Jewish tradition. Wiesel stands in that tradition when he argues that the Jew can only retain his humanity if he boldly takes issue with God and his apparent indifference to the Jews' suffering, and insists on believing no matter what. Man, Wiesel says, must not give in too quickly and allow himself to be crushed spiritually by the grinding forces of inhumanity. One of his Hasidic stories illustrates this dogged determination to believe:

A story is narrated in Shevet Yehuda about Jews who fled their village, their country. They boarded a ship which eventually they had to abandon. They landed on a desert. Hunger, thirst, disease befell them many died. Amongst them was a pious man whose wife had died of hunger. He continued his march, hoping to reach a Jewish settlement. His two children were too weak, so he carried them. They, too, died and he went on carrying them. When he finally realized that he was the last survivor, the pain was so sharp he fainted. When he came to, he looked around first, and then he looked up to the sky and addressed God: "Master of the Universe, I know what you want you want me to stop believing in you — but you won't succeed, you hear me, you won't succeed!" [35]

Man thus defies God and becomes his accuser.

Man taking issue with the Master does not seem such an outrage when the concept is viewed against its Hasidic background. Hasidism traces the tradition of "Jewish protestantism" to the Book of Genesis, where Abraham asked, "Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?" (Gen. 18:25), and to the prophets, such as Habakkuk, who accused God of indifference to the suffering of the righteous (Hab. 1:1-3). In this tradition, man struggles with God and asserts his moral equality with him. But the protest is not a disbelieving blasphemy. It is rather a loving plea. If it is anything negative, it is an expression of concerned disappointment that the Master of the Universe has apparently not lived up to his own standards of justice. [36]

Wiesel has, along with other survivors, chosen this as a response to the Holocaust. These survivors

. had every reason in the world to deny God, to deny anything sacred, to oppose all promises and abort all signs of hope they had every reason in the world to become ferocious nihilists, anarchists, carriers of fear and nightmare. [37]

But what, in fact, did the Jewish survivors of the death camps do as soon as they were liberated?

Believe it or not they held services. To give thanks to God? No, to defy him! To tell him, listen, as mere mortals, as members of the human society, we know we should seize weapons and use them in every place and in every way and never stop — because it is our right. But we are Jews and as such we renounce that right we choose — yes, choose to remain human. And generous. [38]

To remain human even in the face of absurd inhumanity: this, Wiesel suggests, is the real message of Jewish tradition.

Man's defiance of God, in Wiesel's work, is met only by God's silence. Certainly this silence often bears a sinister aspect, as in Night, when the other Jews in the camps are fasting on Yom Kippur and Wiesel says,

I did not fast. I no longer accepted God's silence. As I swallowed my bowl of soup, I saw in the gesture an act of rebellion and protest against Him. [39]

Of all the major motifs Wiesel uses, the concept of silence is the most intimately involved with the notion of transcendence in his work. And his denouncement of God's silence is most often cited as evidence for a lack of any true faith in the transcendent on Wiesel's part. But this is not to do justice to Wiesel. For him, silence is often not only not opposed to the transcendent, but is the most radical expression of it.

Mystic that he is, Wiesel believes in the profound importance of silence. What is not said is frequently as weighty as what is said. For example, God not only gave the words of the Torah, he left spaces between the words, the silence of which is pregnant with meaning. Wiesel so respects the significance of silence that he fears the overuse of words. Asked what are his feelings when he completes a book, he responds, "Naturally the anguish comes: whether I have not said too much — it's never too little but too much." [40] His books tend to be short and his sentences clipped. His subject, the horror of the Holocaust, can only be vulgarized if one attempts to say too much about it. For this reason, he actually writes around the Holocaust, not directly about it. He maintains,

The Holocaust cannot be described, it cannot be communicated, it is unexplainable. To me it is a mystical event. I have the feeling almost of sin when I speak about it. [41]

I say certain things not to say other things, I write a page and the absence of the Holocaust in it is so strong that the absence becomes a presence. [42]

So it is with God, as well. God's silence is a more powerful presence than his words. Ideally, one should not speak about God, but only to him, and this, again, in silence.

If I could communicate what I have to say through not publishing, I would do it. If I could, to use a poetic image, communicate a Silence through silence I would do so. But I cannot. Perhaps I am not strong enough or wise enough. [43]

Silence, far from calling into question the existence of one or both parties to a dialogue, is in reality the most significant level at which the dialogue may occur.

Between author and reader there must be a dialogue. When man speaks to God there is a dialogue. The creative process is a strange one: it comes from solitude, it goes to solitude and yet it's a meeting between two solitudes. It is just like man's solitude faced with God's solitude. Once you have this confrontation, you have art and religion and more. [44]

Too many words may interfere with art and religion. Man is ill-advised to speak too profusely about God and God's own silence is the most revealing communication he may make of himself to man. If the silence with which God responds to man's suffering seems to be an invitation for man to give in to the suffering, Wiesel would say that a refusal to accept God's silence as an excuse for unbelief is the only responsible way out of the dilemma. To affirm and preserve the human (by eating the bowl of soup on Yom Kippur, for example?) in the face of inhumanity often requires that man argue with the divine silence, and affirm the transcendent in the universe by taking issue with its apparent absence. In a roundabout way, man's indignant protest against God's silence would be deprived of meaning if there were no Presence back of the Silence.

Consequently, Elie Wiesel's defiance of God, his refusal to accept God's indifference to man's suffering, and his denial of God are in essence an affirmation of the transcendent, just because they take the form of an affirmation of the human in the face of inhumanity. The most human protest against the apparent meaninglessness of existence is not via the absurd, but via the transcendent. The armchair atheist can afford to allow suffering to continue — Wiesel cannot. He believes suffering must be diminished, and that every act of protest, against God or man, in which suffering is even minutely alleviated is a redemptive act.

Because he holds onto the transcendent, and is prepared to wrestle with it if need be (just as Jacob wrestled with the angel), he can say that

. to flee to a sort of Nirvana is to oppose humanity in the most absurd, useless and comfortable manner possible. A man is a man only when he is among men. It's harder to remain human than to try to leap beyond humanity. [45]

And he can even ask for the strength to defy God in this way!

Oh God, give me the strength to sin against you, to oppose your will! Give me the strength to deny you, reject you, imprison you, ridicule you! [46]

Man denies God by affirming humanity — and this he must do. But in affirming humanity, man makes an affirmation of God which transcends his denial of God.

This circular process is illuminated by the way Wiesel identifies God with man. He sometimes seems to say that God is man, but what he means is that God may be approached only through man. In The Town Beyond the Wall, he has Pedro say,

The way is no less important than the goal. He who thinks about God, forgetting man, runs the risk of mistaking his goal: God may be your next-door neighbor. [47]

Man, God, and self are so closely identified that what man does to his fellow, he does to God and to himself. In Dawn, when Elisha pulls the trigger to kill the British hostage, he cries, "It's done. I've killed. I've killed Elisha." [48] And in Night, when the child is hung, Wiesel can say that it is God who hangs on the gallows. But it is not God himself who dies, any more than a man really dies himself when he kills another man. It is, perhaps Wiesel would say, the image of God upon man that is destroyed when man inflicts suffering on his fellow man. In this sense, the incident of God "dying" on the gallows with the executed child bears a striking resemblance to a parable in the Talmud.

Rabbi Meir said: A parable was stated: To what is the matter comparable? To two twin brothers who lived in one city. One was appointed king and the other took to highway robbery. At the king's command they hanged him. But all who saw him explained: The king is hanged! [49]

Because of his intimate identification of God with man, Wiesel can retain the transcendent even while he defies God. His protest is against the inhumanity which constitutes an eradication of the transcendent. In this protest, both God and man are indicted for the same thing: indifference to suffering.

When the suffering and injustice of the Holocaust is met with apathy, indifference, and unconcern, man has relinquished his humanity, and in doing so has murdered his God.

To be indifferent — for whatever reason — is to deny not only the validity of existence, but also its beauty. Betray, and you are a man torture your neighbor, you're still a man. Evil is human, weakness is human indifference is not. [50]

The injustice perpetrated in an unknown land concerns me I am responsible. He who is not among the victims is with the executioners. This was the meaning of the holocaust it implicated not only Abraham or his son, but their God as well. [5l]

The work of Elie Wiesel is a courageous, sustained protest against indifference. It has overcome the Holocaust by defying it, by refusing to give up the human and the transcendent. His witness to the Holocaust, by its very defiance, has broken the stranglehold of despair on him. And, whatever may be its impact on mankind, it has allowed Elie Wiesel himself to remain human.

One day a Tzadik came to Sodom He knew what Sodom was, so he came to save it from sin, from destruction. He preached to the people. "Please do not be murderers, do not be thieves. Do not be silent and do not be indifferent." He went on preaching day after day, maybe even picketing. But no one listened. He was not discouraged. He went on preaching for years. Finally someone asked him, "Rabbi, why do you do that? Don't you see it is no use?" He said, "I know it is of no use, but I must. And I will tell you why: in the beginning I thought I had to protest and to shout in order to change them. I have given up this hope. Now I know I must picket and scream and shout so that they should not change me." [52]

Elie Wiesel Dehumanization In Night

Bobby.Akpojotor The Dehumanization of Jews In Night During the Holocaust, Jewish prisoners were given numbers instead of names-a signal of disregard to an entire culture, religion,,race, a true form of degrading human beings. Elie Wiesel changes from being a joyful and religious Jewish boy in Sighet, to becoming just another empty void, as well as his comrades at Nazi concentration camps. Elie suffered mal treatment that takes away his own faith,hope, beliefs and strength all while being treated&hellip

Elie Wiesel

Eliezer &ldquoElie&rdquo Wiesel was a noted Holocaust survivor, award winning novelist, journalist, human rights activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Wiesel was born in Sighet, a Romanian shtetl, to an Orthodox Jewish family on September 30, 1928. His parents, Shlomo and Sarah, owned a grocery store in the village. He had two older sisters, Hilda and Bea, and a younger sister, Tsiporah. When he was three years old, Wiesel began attending a Jewish school where he learned Hebrew, Bible, and eventually Talmud. His thinking was influenced by his maternal grandfather who was a prominent Hasid. He also spent time talking with Moshe, a caretaker in his synagogue who told Wiesel about the Messiah and other mysteries of Judaism.

In 1940, the Nazis turned Sighet over to Hungary. In 1942, the Hungarian government ruled that all Jews who could not prove Hungarian citizenship would be transferred to Nazi-held Poland and murdered. The only person from Sighet who was sent to Poland and escaped was Moshe, who returned to Sighet to tell his story. He told of deportations and murder, but the people thought he was crazy and life went on as usual. In 1942, Wiesel celebrated his bar mitzvah. He continued studying the Bible and other Jewish books, and became particularly attracted to Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. To further this study, he learned about astrology, parapsychology, hypnotism and magic. He found a kabbalist in Sighet to teach him.

In March 1944, German soldiers occupied Sighet. They forced the Jews to wear yellow stars. The Nazis closed Jewish stores, raided their houses and created two ghettos. In May, deportations began. The Wiesel&rsquos Christian maid, Maria, invited them to hide in her hut in the mountains, but they turned her down, preferring to stay with the Jewish community. In early June, the Wiesels were among the last Jews to be loaded into a cattle car, with eighty people in one car. Wiesel later wrote, &ldquoLife in the cattle cars was the death of my adolescence.&rdquo 1

After four days, the train stopped at Auschwitz. Wiesel, then 15, followed the instructions of a fellow prisoner and told the waiting SS officer that he was eighteen, a farmer and in good health. He and his father were sent to be slave laborers. His mother and younger sister were taken to the gas chambers. Wiesel and his father survived first Auschwitz and then the Buna labor camp for eight months, enduring beatings, hunger, and back-breaking work. Like other inmates, Wiesel was stripped of his identity and became identified only by his number: A-7713.

Wiesel is in the second row of bunks, seventh from the left

In the winter of 1944-1945, Wiesel&rsquos foot swelled up. He went to a camp doctor who operated on him. Two days later, on January 19, the SS forced the inmates of Buna on a death march. For ten days, the prisoners were forced to run and, at the end, were crammed into freight cars and sent to Buchenwald. Of the 20,000 prisoners who left Buna, 6,000 reached Buchenwald. Upon arrival on January 29, Wiesel&rsquos father, Shlomo, died of dysentery, starvation and exhaustion.

Wiesel was sent to join 600 children in Block 66 of Buchenwald. As the end of the war approached, on April 6, 1945, the guards told the prisoners they would no longer be fed, and began evacuating the camp, killing 10,000 prisoners a day. On the morning of April 11, an underground movement rose from within the camp and attacked the SS guards. In early evening, the first American military units arrived and liberated the camp.

After liberation, Wiesel became sick with intestinal problems and spent several days in a hospital. While hospitalized, he wrote the outline for a book describing his experiences during the Holocaust. He was not ready to publicize his experiences, however, and promised himself to wait 10 years before writing them down in detail.

When Wiesel was released from the hospital, he did not think any of his family had survived the war. He joined a group of 400 orphan children taken to France. Upon arrival, he tried to immigrate to Palestine but was not allowed. From 1945 to 1947, he was in different homes in France found for him by a Jewish group called the Children&rsquos Rescue Society. He remained an Orthodox Jew in practice, but began to have questions about God.

In 1947, he began to study French with a tutor. By chance, Wiesel&rsquos sister, Hilda, saw his picture in a newspaper and got in touch with him. Months later, Wiesel was also reunited with his sister Bea in Antwerp.

In France, Wiesel met a Jewish scholar who gave his name simply as Shushani. Shushani was a brilliant yet mysterious man who enchanted his audience with his insights in all areas of Jewish and general knowledge. Wiesel became his student and was deeply influenced by him.

In 1948, Wiesel enrolled in the Sorbonne University where he studied literature, philosophy and psychology. He was extremely poor and at times became depressed to the point of considering suicide. In time, however, he became involved with the Irgun, a Jewish militant organization in Palestine, and translated materials from Hebrew to Yiddish for the Irgun&rsquos newspaper. He began working as a reporter and in 1949, traveled to Israel as a correspondent for the French paper L&rsquoArche. In Israel, he secured a job as Paris correspondent for the Israeli paper Yediot Achronot and, in the 1950s, traveled around the world as a reporter. He also became involved in the controversy over whether Israel should accept reparation payments from West Germany.

A turning point in Wiesel&rsquos life came in 1954 when Wiesel interviewed the Catholic writer Fancois Mauriac. During the interview, everything Mauriac said seemed to relate to Jesus. Finally, Wiesel burst out that while Christians love to talk about the suffering of Jesus, &ldquo&hellipten years ago, not very far from here, I knew Jewish children every one of whom suffered a thousand times more, six million times more, than Christ on the cross. And we don&rsquot speak about them.&rdquo 2 Wiesel ran from the room, but Mauriac followed him, asked Wiesel about his experiences and advised him to write them down.

Wiesel then spent a year drawing on the outline he had written in the hospital to write an 862-page Yiddish manuscript he called And the World Was Silent. He gave it to a publisher in Argentina and it came back as a 245-page book retitled Night. The book, published in France in 1958 and in the U.S. in 1960, was autobiographical and told of his experiences from his youth in Sighet through his liberation from Buchenwald. It is also a personal account of his loss of religious faith.

In 1955, Wiesel moved to New York as foreign correspondent for Yediot Ahronot. It was around this time that he decided to stop attending synagogue, except on the High Holidays and to say yizkor, as a protest against what he concluded was divine injustice.

One night in July 1956, Wiesel was crossing a New York street when a taxi hit him. He underwent a 10-hour operation. Once he recovered, he began to concentrate more on his writing. He dedicated four hours every morning, from 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. to writing. After Night was published, he wrote a second novel in 1961, Dawn, about a concentration camp survivor. In quick succession he wrote The Accident (1961), about a survivor hurt in a traffic accident, The Town Beyond the Wall (1962), The Gates of the Forest (1964), and Legends of Our Time (1966), all novels chronicling Jewish suffering during and after the Holocaust.

In 1965, he visited the Soviet Union and wrote a book entitled The Jews of Silence (1966) about the plight of Soviet Jewry. After the 1967 war in Israel, he wrote A Begger in Jerusalem (1968) about Jews responding to the reunification of Jerusalem. This book earned him the Prix Medicis, one of France&rsquos top literary rewards. In these books, he portrays characters in situations that are exclusively Jewish. He perceives reality through the lens of Talmud, Kabbalah, and Hasidism. His books &ldquomingle tales and legends with testimony, recollection and lament.&rdquo 3

In 1969, Wiesel married Marion Erster Rose, a divorced woman from Austria. She translated all of Wiesel&rsquos subsequent books. In 1972, they had a son who they named Shlomo Elisha Wiesel, after Wiesel&rsquos father.

Wiesel continued writing through the 1970s and 1980s. His book The Trial of God (1977) depicts a trial in which a man accuses God of &ldquohostility, cruelty and indifference.&rdquo 4 Wiesel, throughout his life, refused to completely abandon his belief in God as caretaker of His people, while at the same time he questioned God&rsquos seeming indifference to Jewish suffering. His cantata Ani Maamin (1973) presents a dialogue between the Jewish forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who have the responsibility of directing God&rsquos attention to Israel&rsquos suffering throughout the generations. Other books include One Generation After (1972), Four Hasidic Masters (1978), The Testament (1980) and two volumes of his memoirs (1995 and 1999).

Wiesel was outspoken about the suffering of all people, not only Jews. In the 1970s, he protested against South African apartheid. In 1980, he delivered food to starving Cambodians. In 1986, he received the Nobel Peace Prize as &ldquoa messenger to mankind,&rdquo 5 and &ldquoa human being dedicated to humanity.&rdquo 6 He explained his actions by saying the whole world knew what was happening in the concentration camps, but did nothing. &ldquoThat is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.&rdquo 7

From 1972 to 1978, Wiesel was a Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City University of New York. In 1978, he became a Professor of Humanities at Boston University. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter asked him to head the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which he did for six years. In 1985, Wiesel was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement. In 1988, he established his own humanitarian foundation, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, to explore the problems of hatred and ethnic conflicts. In the early 1990s, he lobbied the U.S. government on behalf of victims of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Wiesel has received numerous awards and approximately 75 honorary doctorates.

In 1993, Wiesel spoke at the dedication of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. His words, which echo his life&rsquos work, are carved in stone at the entrance to the museum: &ldquoFor the dead and the living, we must bear witness.&rdquo 8

In 2011, Elie Wiesel&rsquos close friend and archivist Martha Hauptman happened upon an unfamiliar document among the thousands of Wiesel&rsquos files at Boston University. Upon reading the manuscript she realized that it was a play entitled &ldquoThe Choice,&rdquo written by Wiesel in the 1960&rsquos that even he had forgotten that he had written. The play follows the internal struggle of a young Holocaust survivor in pre-state Israel who is told by his commander that he must execute a British officer who has been taken hostage. After the original document was translated from French to English, an eclectic assortment of readers gathered at Harvard University to perform the play for the first time in April 2015.

Wiesel died at his home in Manhattan, New York, on July 2, 2016.

Sources: David Aikman, Great Souls, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998)
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Fifty Key Jewish Thinkers, (New York: Routledge, 1997)
Encyclopedia Judaica.
Elie Wiesel, CD-ROM Edition, Judaica Multimedia (Israel) Ltd
Michael Pariser, Elie Wiesel, (Brookfield: The Millbrook Press, 1994)
Elie Wiesel, All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995)
The World Book Encyclopedia. Elie Wiesel, Vol. 21, 1988 Edition
Haaretz &ldquoLost Elie Wiesel play &lsquoThe Choice&rsquo receives belated premiere,&rdquo (April 16, 2015).

1 Aikman, p. 326.
2 Aikman, p. 342.
3 Encyclopedia Judaica.
4 Cohn-Sherbok, p.128.
5 Pariser, p. 40.
6 Aikman, p. 354.
7 Pariser, p. 40.
8 Pariser, p. 43.

Watch the video: When a former Nazi meets a Holocaust survivor (July 2022).


  1. Dion

    I agree with all of the above. We can communicate on this theme. Here or at PM.

  2. Ata

    It even smacks of insanity, but without this the post would have turned out to be mundane and boring, like hundreds of others.

  3. Hanz

    Please give details

  4. Bedrosian

    I think you are not right. We will discuss. Write in PM.

  5. Kubas

    Bravo, what words..., a magnificent idea

  6. Mohamad

    I think you are wrong. I can defend my position. Write to me in PM, we'll talk.

  7. Salomon

    I absolutely agree with you. This is a good idea. I am ready to support you.

Write a message