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Wiesel at the 2012 Time 100
September 30, 1928
Sighet, Maramureș, Kingdom of Romania
|Occupation||Political activist, professor, novelist|
|Notable awards||Nobel Peace Prize
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Congressional Gold Medal
Legion of Honour
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
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.
Early lifeSighetu Marmației), Maramureș, Romania, in the Carpathian Mountains. His parents were Sarah Feig and Shlomo Wiesel. At home Wiesel's family spoke Yiddish most of the time, but also German, Hungarian, and Romanian. Wiesel's mother, Sarah, was the daughter of Dodye Feig, a celebrated Vizhnitz Hasid and farmer from a nearby village. Dodye was active and trusted within the community. In the early years of his life Dodye had spent a few months in jail for having helped Polish Jews who escaped and were hungry.
Wiesel's father, Shlomo, 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 while his mother Sarah promoted faith.
Wiesel had three siblings – 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 Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Tzipora, Shlomo, and Sarah did not survive the Holocaust.
World War IISecond 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 6, 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.
Separated from his three sisters and mother, he went to the same camp as his father.
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 more than eight months as they were forced to work under appalling conditions and shuffled among 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 also beaten by other inmates for his food. He was later sent to the crematorium, only weeks before the camp was liberated by the U.S. Third Army on April 11.
After the warAfter 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).
In 1948 Wiesel became involved with the Irgun, translating articles from Hebrew to Yiddish for its periodicals. In 1949 he travelled to Israel as a correspondent for the French newspaper L'arche. He then was hired as Paris correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, subsequently becoming its roaming international correspondent.
For ten years after the war, Wiesel refused to write about or discuss his experiences during the Holocaust. Like many survivors, he could not find the words to describe his experiences. However, a meeting with the French author François Mauriac, the 1952 Nobel Laureate in Literature who eventually became Wiesel's close friend, persuaded him to write about his experiences. Wiesel said that a discussion he had with Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson was a turning point in his writing of the Holocaust.
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, which 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 only a few copies.
In 1960 Arthur Wang of Hill & Wang agreed to pay a $100 pro-forma advance and published it in the United States in September that year as Night. The book agent was Georges Borchardt, then just starting his career. Borchardt remains Wiesel's literary agent today.
The book 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 such as 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 are said to have been based on his 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. Regarding his personal beliefs, Wiesel calls himself an agnostic.
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 12, 2006, the new translation of Night was No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list for paperback non-fiction and the original translation placed third.
Film director Orson Welles approached Wiesel about making Night into a feature film. Wiesel refused, saying that his widely read memoir would lose its meaning if it were told without the silences in between his words.
Life in the United StatesIn 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 1964, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson encouraged Wiesel to get married. Wiesel went on to marry his wife Marion and they had a son, Elisha. 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.
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 The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence. Additionally, he 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 before revelations that the book was fiction and, in the sense that it was presented as all Kosinski's true experience, a hoax.
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. 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, D.C., during which he pleaded for intervention during the persecutions in Yugoslavia after a visit in December 1992.
Wiesel is particularly fond of teaching and holds the position of Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Boston University, where he became a close friend of the late president and chancellor John Silber. 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 of Columbia University.
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.
In 2004, he voiced support for intervention in Darfur, Sudan at the Darfur Emergency Summit convened at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York by the American Jewish World Service and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 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 degree from the University of Florida.
In 2002, he inaugurated the Elie Wiesel Memorial House in Sighet, in his childhood home.
RecentAuschwitz 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 a knighthood in London in recognition of his work toward raising Holocaust education in the United Kingdom.
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. That same year, 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 downplay its actions during the Armenian genocide a double killing.
Wiesel is a member of the International Advisory Board of NGO Monitor.
Wiesel and his wife invested their life savings, and the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity invested nearly all of its assets (approximately $15.2 million USD) through Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, an experience Wiesel later spoke about at a Condé Nast roundtable. Although an exact recovery percentage is not yet known, as of April 2013, 53% of victims' monies have been recovered and returned to them. In a New York Times article, Wiesel called Madoff "a psychopath."
In 2009, Wiesel criticized the Vatican for lifting 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 Nazi 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 10,000 participants of an anti-racist gathering held in Faith Hall. The speech was broadcast live by Magyar ATV, a nationwide television channel.
In November 2011, Wiesel accepted an appointment to the Board of Visitors of Ralston College, a start-up liberal arts college based in Savannah, Georgia.
In June 2012, he protested against "the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes" that happened in Hungary during the Holocaust. He gave up the Great Cross award received from the Hungarian government and sent a letter to László Kövér, the Speaker of Hungarian Parliament, where he criticized him for his participation in a ceremony celebrating József Nyírő, a loyal member of Hungary's World War II fascist parliament. During the short rule of the Arrow Cross Party, which led a government in Hungary, ten to fifteen thousand Jews were murdered outright, and 80,000 Jews, including many women, children and elderly were deported from Hungary to their deaths in the Auschwitz concentration camp. In his letter Wiesel wrote:
Kövér, in his answer letter to Wiesel, stated, the American, British and Soviet generals in the Allied Control Commission determined the conclusion in 1945 and 1947, when they refused to extradite the exiled writer two times for the request of the contemporary Hungarian Communist Minister of the Interior, Nyirő was not a war criminal, nor fascist or anti-Semitic. He also mentioned that Nicolae Ceauşescu's government treated Nyírő as a well-recognized writer and ensured pension for his widow in the 1970s. Kövér cited a Hungarian Jewish scientific review (the Libanon) and the newspaper stated that Nazi ideals or anti-Semitism cannot be found in Nyírő's literary works. Nyírő, the Transylvanian-born Hungarian writer, deserves respect not because of his - although insignificant, but certainly tragically misguided - political activities but his literary works according to Kövér.
In fact, Nyírő was a great admirer of Joseph Goebbels; he wrote lyrics about the Nazi Minister of Propaganda and was a politician associated with Fascist Arrow-Cross parliament in 1944, who later escaped retribution and participated in the propaganda work of Hungarian Fascist emigrants.
Wiesel is currently an advisor at the Gatestone Institute. In 2010, Wiesel accepted a five-year appointment as a Distinguished Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. In that role, he makes a one-week visit to Chapman annually to meet with students and offer his perspective on subjects ranging from Holocaust history to religion, languages, literature, law and music.
- 2007 attack on Wiesel
- Reaction to proxy baptizing of Jews by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
In an August 4, 2014 full-page advertisement in The New York Times and other newspapers, Wiesel condemned Hamas for the "use of children as human shields" during the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict The London Times refused to run the advertisement, saying "the opinion being expressed is too strong and too forcefully made and will cause concern amongst a significant number of Times readers."
ControversiesOn April 18, 2010 in The New York Times and on 16 April for three other newspapers, Wiesel wrote a full-page advertisement in which he emphasized the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and criticized the Obama administration for pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt East Jerusalem Israeli settlement construction. He wrote:
Extended quotation from the text:
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.... 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.Three weeks later, on May 4, 2010, Wiesel met with President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss Middle East peace relations. Afterwards, Wiesel said, "The president is convinced that the peace process must continue. And we all agree of course. There is no substitute to peace among nations. Each side must understand that there is no absolute justice in the world, nor absolute peace in the world. One side must understand the other's need for assurance for respect."
Wiesel's position on Jerusalem 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 was criticized by former DePaul University professor and political scientist 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 Armenian Genocide, and thwarting efforts of raising awareness of the genocide of the Romani people executed by the Nazis. Finkelstein cited Wiesel's lobbying for commemorating Jews alone (not the Romani people) in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., in addition to his numerous other assertions on the "uniqueness of Holocaust."
Since 2011, Wiesel has served as the chairman of the controversial Ir David Foundation council.
Awards and honors
- Prix de l'Université de la Langue Française (Prix Rivarol) for The Town Beyond the Wall, 1963.
- National Jewish Book Council Award for The Town Beyond the Wall, 1963.
- Ingram Merrill award, 1964.
- Prix Médicis for A Beggar in Jerusalem, 1968.
- Jewish Heritage Award, Haifa University, 1975.
- Holocaust Memorial Award, New York Society of Clinical Psychologists, 1975.
- S.Y. Agnon Medal, 1980.
- Jabotinsky Medal, State of Israel, 1980.
- Prix Livre Inter, France, for The Testament, 1980.
- Grand Prize in Literature from the City of Paris for The Fifth Son, 1983.
- Commander in the French Legion of Honor, 1984.
- U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, 1984.
- Medal of Liberty, 1986.
- Nobel Peace Prize, 1986.
- Grand Officer in the French Legion of Honor, 1990.
- Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1992
- Niebuhr Medal, Elmhurst College, Illinois, 1995.
- Grand Cross in the French Legion of Honor, 2000.
- Star of Romania, 2002.
- Man of the Year award, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2005.
- Light of Truth award, International Campaign for Tibet, 2005.
- Honorary Knighthood, United Kingdom, 2006.
- Honorary Visiting Professor of Humanities, Rochester College, 2008.
- National Humanities Medal, 2009.
- Norman Mailer Prize, Lifetime Achievement, 2011.
- Loebenberg Humanitarian Award, Florida Holocaust Museum, 2012.
- Nadav Award, 2012.
- S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards, 2013.
- John Jay Medal for Justice John Jay College, 2014 
- Doctor of Humane Letters, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, 1985.
- Doctor of Humane Letters, DePaul University, Chicago, 1997.
- Doctorate, Seton Hall University, New Jersey, 1998.
- Doctor of Humanities, Michigan State University, 1999.
- Doctorate, McDaniel College, Westminster, MD, 2005.
- Doctor of Humane Letters, Chapman University, 2005.
- Doctor of Humane Letters, Dartmouth College, 2006.
- Doctor of Humane Letters, Cabrini College, Radnor, PA, 2007.
- Doctor of Humane Letters, University of Vermont, 2007.
- Doctor of Humanities, Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, 2007.
- Doctor of Letters, City College of New York, 2008.
- Doctorate, Tel Aviv University, 2008.
- Doctorate, Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, Israel, 2008.
- Doctor of Humane Letters, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, 2009.
- Doctor of Letters, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, 2010.
- Doctor of Humane Letters, Washington University in St. Louis, 2011.
- Doctor of Humane Letters, College of Charleston, 2011.
- Doctorate, University of Warsaw, June 25, 2012.
- Doctorate, The University of British Columbia, September 10, 2012.
Main article: Elie Wiesel bibliography
- Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism
- Echo Foundation
- Elie Wiesel National Institute for Studying the Holocaust in Romania
- List of investors in Bernard L. Madoff Securities
- List of civil rights leaders
- List of Jewish Nobel laureates
- God on Trial – A 2008 joint BBC / WGBH Boston dramatisation of his book The Trial of God, about a group of Auschwitz prisoners who place God on trial for breaching his contract with the Jewish people.
- The Boys of Buchenwald – documentary about the orphanage in which he stayed after the Holocaust
- Genesis Prize
- Holocaust research