Elie Wiesel (born Eliezer Wiesel on September 30, 1928, in Sighetu Marmaţiei, Romania) is a Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor. He is the author of 57 books, the best known of which is Night, a memoir that describes his experiences during the Holocaust and his imprisonment in several concentration camps.
Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. The Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a "messenger to mankind", noting 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 has delivered a powerful message "of peace, atonement and human dignity" to humanity.
He taught Hebrew and worked as a choirmaster before becoming a professional journalist. He wrote for Israeli and French newspapers, including Tsien in Kamf (in Yiddish) and the French Jewish Magazine, L'arche. However, for ten years after the war, Wiesel refused to write about or discuss his experiences during the Holocaust. Like many survivors, Wiesel could not find the words to describe his experiences. However, a meeting with François Mauriac, the 1952 Nobel Laureate in Literature, who eventually became Wiesel's close friend, persuaded him to write about his Holocaust experiences.
Wiesel first wrote the 245-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, and it was published as the 127-page autobiography 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 few copies. In 1960, Arthur Wang of Hill & Wang agreed to pay a $100 pro-forma advance, and published it in the U.S. in September that year as Night. It 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 like 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."
By 1997, Night was selling 300,000 copies annually in the United States; by March 2006, it had sold six million copies there, and had been translated into 30 languages. On January 16, 2006, Oprah Winfrey chose the novel 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 13, 2006, Night was no. 1 in The New York Times bestseller list for paperback non-fiction.
In 1955, Wiesel moved to New York City, having become a U.S. 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 the U.S., Wiesel wrote over forty 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 (Wiesel:1999, 18).
He was awarded the 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, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1996. He is also the recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence. 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 while 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 U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council) from 1978 to 1986, spearheading the building of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
Wiesel is particularly fond of teaching and holds the position of Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Boston University. 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.
Wiesel has become a popular speaker on the subject of the Holocaust. As a 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. He recently voiced support for intervention in Darfur, Sudan. 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.
On March 27, 2001, Wiesel appeared at the University of Florida for Jewish Awareness Month and was presented with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the University of Florida by Dr. Charles Young.
In 2002, he inaugurated the Elie Wiesel Memorial House in Sighet in his childhood home.
In early 2006, Wiesel traveled to Auschwitz 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.
On November 30, 2006 Wiesel received an honorary knighthood in London in recognition of his work toward raising Holocaust education in the United Kingdom.
On April 25, 2007, Wiesel was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree from the University of Vermont.
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, Elie Wiesel was awarded the Dayton Literary Peace Prize's Lifetime Achievement Award.
On April 9, 2008, Wiesel was presented with an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Letters at the City College of New York.
On February 1, 2007, Wiesel was attacked in a San Francisco hotel by a twenty-two year old holocaust denier named Eric Hunt who tried to drag Wiesel into a hotel room. Wiesel was not injured and Hunt fled the scene. Later, Hunt bragged about the incident on a holocaust denial website. Approximately one month later, he was arrested and charged with multiple offenses. Hunt was convicted in July 2008; he was sentenced to two years but was given credit for time served and good behavior and was released on probation and ordered to undergo psychological treatment. At his sentencing hearing, Hunt apologized and insisted that he no longer denies the holocaust.
I support Israel—period. I identify with Israel—period. I never attack, never criticize Israel when I am not in Israel.
Chomsky interprets Wiesel's "sadness" after the Sabra-Shatila massacre as concern for Israel's image, rather than for its victims, and does not accept Wiesel's defense that "after all the Israeli soldiers did not kill [the Palestinians,]" adding that Israeli troops participated in much killing in their own right, and concluding that Wiesel must view Israel as "basically exempt from criticism".
In a radio interview several years prior to his well-publicized tenure-denial case, Finkelstein accused Wiesel of cheapening the significance of the Nazi Holocaust by asserting its uniqueness. Finkelstein complained that Wiesel had allegedly earned speaking fees of as high as $25,000 yet impeded learning by allegedly not comparing the Holocaust to other massacres:
Elie Wiesel is always wheeled out, and with his long face and anguished heart and cinematic eyes, he always says: "Oh, do not compare." I beg your pardon, I think you should compare. Otherwise, if you don't want to compare, what's the point of it? What are you going to learn from it?
Finkelstein's book The Holocaust Industry has a section attacking what he calls the "uniqueness doctrine," which he attributes to Wiesel and to a putative "Holocaust Industry." Finkelstein alleges that Wiesel is a leader of the "Holocaust Industry" as he has allegedly refused to satisfactorily criticize Israel for the Sabra and Shatila Massacre and, according to Finkelstein, is plotting to diminish the importance of the genocides of communists, non-National socialists, the Roma people, homosexuals and the handicapped by the National Socialists and the Turks genocide of the Armenians (Finkelstein) as well as other genocides and allegedly deploring African-American "ingratitude" to Jews.