Photo Credit:
Elie Wiesel / Photo credit: Taylor Spaulding

Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel who in 1986 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, is dead, according to a Saturday announcement by Yad Vashem. He was 87 years old. Wiesel died in his New York home. He was survived by his wife, his son and two grandchildren.

Wiesel was born in in Sighet, Transylvania (Romania), in the Carpathian Mountains, on September 30, 1928. Wiesel’s mother, Sarah, was the daughter of a Vizhnitz Hasid who spent time in jail for helping Polish Jews enter the country illegally. Wiesel’s father, Shlomo, encouraged him to learn Hebrew and to read literature, while his mother encouraged him to study the Torah. Wiesel had three siblings – older sisters Beatrice and Hilda, 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 Canada. Tzipora, Shlomo, and Sarah did not survive the Holocaust.

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In 1944, the German army deported the Jewish community in Sighet to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Wiesel and his father were sent to the work camp Buna, a subcamp of Auschwitz III-Monowitz. He managed to remain with his father for more than eight months as they were shuffled among three concentration camps in the final days of the war.

On January 28, 1945, just a few weeks after the two were marched to Buchenwald, Wiesel’s father was beaten by an SS guard 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 US Third Army on April 11.

For ten years after the war, Wiesel refused to write about or discuss his experiences during the Holocaust. However, a meeting with the French author François Mauriac, the 1952 Nobel Laureate in Literature, and a discussion he had with the Lubavitcher Rebbe were turning points for him. His first memoir, in Yiddish, titled, And the World Remained Silent, was published in Buenos Aires. He rewrote a new version of the manuscript in French, which was published as La Nuit, and translated into English as Night. Wiesel had trouble finding a publisher and the book initially sold only a few copies.

In 1960 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 sold only 1,046 copies, 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 millions of copies in print.”

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.

Wiesel and his wife started the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. He served as chairman for the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust (later renamed US Holocaust Memorial Council) from 1978 to 1986, spearheading the building of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, during which he pleaded for US intervention in Yugoslavia after a visit there in 1992.

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) through Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, an experience that caused Wiesel deep pain.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. Remember him, Israel, the next time you charge a soldier with murder for killing a terrorist who came to kill Jews; the next time you release terrorists as a precondition to "peace talks;" the next time Jews are not allowed to pray at their holy sites;" may he rest in peace.

  2. Just now ·
    AddThis Sharing
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    ..
    we the children and grandchildren must now carry on. .never forget

    Elie Wiesel gave the Holocaust a face and the world a conscience

    Elie Wiesel challenged two presidents, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, to understand the meaning of the Holocaust.

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  3. I was saddened to hear about the passing of Ellie Weisel – about 10 years ago, Rabbi Ben Greenberg and I were still bachurim in yeshivah, and I remember we took a walk (it was snowing that day) over to Queens College to hear Reb Ellie speak. We marveled how he quoted the Kotzker, and explained to the mixed audience who he was, but when he quoted Rashi he did so nonchalantly with no explanation who Rashi was. After the lecture, we went to greet him. When I shook his hand, he was visibly very happy to see a chassidishe bachur with the full levush. After all his years as an activist and author, he was still a Viznitzer Chossid from Siget at heart. I know he was made famous for his writings on the Holocaust, but to me his writings on Hasidism are much more important, such as "Souls on Fire", which gives brief biographical sketches of some of the major early Hasidic Masters. It shows that Judaism isn't only death and mourning, only kaddish, yizkor, yartzeit, etc., as so many American Jews have made it to be (and have lost their next generation for it), but rather it is a living, vibrant, and joyous Faith, here to bring light and life to the world. May his memory be a blessing.

  4. One very significant quote is missing.

    It is essential that the editors of the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles listen carefully to this message since they seem prone to fight everyone's causes in the name of universalism to the detriment of defending the Jews in Israel, in Europe and in the United States. T

    his is the approximate quotation: it was not man's inhumanity to man it was man's inhumanity to the Jews.

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