Elie Wiesel was born Eliezer Wiesel on September 30, 1928 in Sighet, Transylvania, which is now part of Romania, to Shlomo and Sarah Wiesel. Wiesel, who grew up with three sisters and pursued religious studies at a nearby yeshiva, was influenced by the traditional spiritual beliefs of his grandfather and mother, as well as his father's liberal expressions of Judaism.
In 1940, Hungary annexed Sighet and the Wiesels were among the Jewish families forced to live in ghettos. In May 1944, Nazi Germany, with Hungary's agreement, forced Jews living in Sighet to be deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. At the age of 15, Wiesel and his entire family were sent to Auschwitz as part of the Holocaust, which took the lives of more than 6 million Jews. Wiesel was sent to Buna Werke labor camp, a sub-camp of Auschwitz III-Monowitz, with his father where they were forced to work under deplorable, inhumane conditions. They were transferred to other Nazi camps and force marched to Buchenwald where his father died after being beaten by a German soldier, just three months before the camp was liberated. Wiesel’s mother and younger sister Tzipora also died in the Holocaust. Elie was freed from Buchenwald in April 1945. Of his relatives, only he and his older sisters Beatrice and Hilda survived.
After the war, Elie Wiesel studied in Paris and later became a journalist. During an interview with the distinguished French writer, Francois Mauriac, he was persuaded to write about his experiences in the death camps. The result was his internationally acclaimed memoir, Night (La Nuit), which has since been translated into more than thirty languages.
Elie Wiesel wrote more than sixty books of fiction and non-fiction, including A Beggar in Jerusalem (Prix Médicis winner), The Testament (Prix Livre Inter winner), The Fifth Son (winner of the Grand Prize in Literature from the City of Paris), two volumes of his memoirs, All Rivers Run to the Sea and And the Sea is Never Full, and The Sonderberg Case.
Wiesel moved to New York in 1955 and became a U.S. citizen in 1963. He met Marion Rose, an Austrian Holocaust survivor, in New York, and they married in Jerusalem in 1969. The couple had one son, Elisha.
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed,” Mr. Wiesel wrote hauntingly of his experience. “Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the 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 long as God himself. Never.”
Despite this his dreams for humanity and his faith in God did not die after all. On the contrary he dedicated his life to writing, speaking and more importantly living and radiating his faith and dreams. The world is increasingly forgetting the Holocaust and he must be heard now at least as much as in the past. As a child of my mother, a hidden child who was almost killed, and as the grandchild and relative of Holocaust victims I know I certainly want to feel that Europe in particular will not forget despite it increasingly wanting to.
For his literary and human rights activities, he received numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the National Humanities Medal, the Medal of Liberty, and the rank of Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor. In 1986, Elie Wiesel won the Nobel Prize for Peace, and soon after, Marion and Elie Wiesel established The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Elie Wiesel as Chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust. In 1980, he became the Founding Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. He was President of The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, an organization he and his wife created to fight indifference, intolerance and injustice. Elie Wiesel received more than 100 honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning.
A devoted supporter of Israel, Elie Wiesel also defended the cause of Soviet Jews, Nicaragua's Miskito Indians, Argentina's Desaparecidos, Cambodian refugees, the Kurds, victims of famine and genocide in Africa, of apartheid in South Africa, and victims of war in the former Yugoslavia. For more than fifteen years, Elie and his wife Marion have been especially devoted to the cause of Ethiopian-born Israeli youth through the Foundation's Beit Tzipora Centers for Study and Enrichment.
Teaching has always been central to Elie Wiesel's work. Since 1976, he was the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, holding the title of University Professor. He was a member of the Faculty in the Department of Religion as well as the Department of Philosophy. Previously, he served as Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City University of New York (1972-76) and the first Henry Luce Visiting Scholar in Humanities and Social Thought at Yale University (1982-83). Elie Wiesel died on July 2, 2016 in Manhattan.
The Nobel citation honoring him stated: “Wiesel is a messenger to mankind. His message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief.”
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