The truth simply and plainly stated is poetry, and that makes Elie Wiesel a poet of high rank. Not every “poem” is made a poem by its appearance on the page; a forgettable poem is not a poem at all; and the most important words are memorable because we cannot, dare not, must not forget them. If the world forgets or long ignores the words of men like Elie Wiesel, then the Hitlers and Stalins will have won, and the world is doomed. But as long as his words—and the words of men and women like him—step to the forefront, as they do here, while the strident cries of lunatics recede as they should into the black satanic pits of racism, fascism, despotism, communism and fanaticism, then there is hope for the world. Let men and women of freedom always live in such hope, and let courageous poets and prophets like Elie Wiesel lead the way, wielding words more world-amending than weapons. …
Elie Wiesel was described by the Nobel Committee in 1986 as “a messenger to mankind,” whose “message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity.”
Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 in Sighet, Transylvania, now a part of Romania . He was fifteen years old when he and his family were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz . His mother and younger sister perished, his two older sisters survived. Elie and his father were later transported to Buchenwald , where his father died shortly before the camp was liberated in April 1945.
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, La Nuit or Night, which has since been translated into more than thirty languages. Arguably the most powerful and renowned passage in Holocaust literature, this book records the inclusive experience of the Jews:
“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. 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 that 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 as long as God Himself. Never." And Wiesel has since dedicated his life to ensuring that none of us forget what happened to the Jews.
Wiesel survived Auschwitz, Buna, Buchenwald and Gleiwitz. After the liberation of the camps in April 1945, Wiesel spent a few years in a French orphanage and in 1948 began to study in Paris at the Sorbonne. He became involved in journalistic work with the French newspaper L'arche. He was acquainted with Nobel laureate Francois Mauriac, who eventually influenced Wiesel to break his vowed silence and write of his experience in the concentration camps, thus beginning a lifetime of service.
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 is also the Founding President of the Paris based Universal Academy of Cultures. Elie Wiesel has received over one-hundred honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning.
A devoted supporter of Israel , Elie Wiesel has also defended the cause of Soviet Jews, Nicaragua ’s Miskito Indians, Argentina ’s Desaparecidos, Cambodian refugees, the Kurds, victims of famine in Africa, victims of apartheid in South Africa , and victims of war in the former Yugoslavia .
Teaching has always been central to Elie Wiesel’s work. Since 1976, he has been the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University , where he also holds the title of University Professor. He is 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 is the author of more than forty 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), and two volumes of his memoirs.
For his literary and human rights activities, he has received numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and the Medal of Liberty Award, and the rank of Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor. In 1986, Elie Wiesel won the Nobel Prize for Peace (click here to read his Nobel Speech). A few months later, Marion and Elie Wiesel established The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. Its mission is to advance the cause of human rights and peace throughout the world by creating a new forum for the discussion of urgent ethical issues confronting humanity.
The first major project undertaken by the Foundation was an international conference of Nobel Laureates convened jointly by Elie Wiesel and French President Francois Mitterrand. Seventy-nine Laureates from five continents met in January 1988 in Paris to explore issues and questions related to the conference theme, “Facing the 21st Century: Threats and Promises.”
This was followed by conferences on “The Anatomy of Hate”, first in Boston , cosponsored by Boston University (1989), in Haifa , co-sponsored by Haifa University (1990), in Oslo , co-sponsored by the Norwegian Nobel Committee (1990), and in Moscow , co-sponsored by Ogonyok Magazine (1991). In November, 1992, a conference on “The Anatomy of Hate: Saving our Children”, co-sponsored by Mario M. Cuomo, Governor of the State of New York was held at New York University .
Elie Wiesel’s statement, “... to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all ... “ stands as a succinct summary of his views on life and serves as the driving force of his work. Wiesel is the author of 36 works dealing with Judaism, the Holocaust, and the moral responsibility of all people to fight hatred, racism and genocide:
“Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.” (From the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity website)
An American citizen since 1963, Elie Wiesel lives in New York with his wife and son.