Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel brought the Holocaust and its survival to the American public.


“When Israel went into exile, so did its language,” Elie Wiesel observes in his book Messengers of God.
Elie Wiesel–Holocaust survivor, novelist, memoirist, and Nobel laureate–has made a career out of documenting the exile of the Jews, creating a new language able to acknowledge and accommodate that expansive history. He is the Holocaust survivor who devotes much of his life to the remembrance of the elie wieselNazi genocide. He is the writer who moonlights as an advocate. He is the novelist and memoirist who skirts the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, with some books embracing elements of both. He is perhaps the most lauded writer in the world–so lauded, in fact, that some people may forget he is, in fact, a writer.
Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, honoring his efforts as an impassioned voice against injustice. Like so many other survivors, Wiesel has transformed his experience at Auschwitz into a kind of moral code—one that takes the principle of “never again” as a starting point. Wiesel has spoken out courageously against communism, the Rwandan genocide, and apartheid. “We must always take sides,” Wiesel said in his Nobel acceptance speech. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Formative Years

Elie Wiesel was born in Sighet, Romania, in 1928. When he was 12 years old, the town was reassigned to Hungarian rule, and in May 1944, Wiesel was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp along with his parents and his sisters. Wiesel and his father were slave laborers at Auschwitz. His father died in January 1945 during a forced march to another camp, Buchenwald., and his mother and younger sister were murdered as well.
After the war, Wiesel moved to France, where he worked as a journalist. In the mid-1950s, Wiesel began to work on a book about his wartime years. No longer comfortable with Yiddish or Romanian as an expression of his thoughts, Wiesel chose to write in French. The 900-page manuscript was trimmed to a slim, semi-fictionalized account of life in Sighet and Auschwitz called Night.

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Saul Austerlitz is a writer and film critic in New York.

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