Authors: Elie Wiesel

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

Author

September 30, 1928

Sighet, Romania

July 2, 2016

New York, New York

Biography

Eliezer (Elie) Wiesel (vee-ZEHL) received his early education completely within Jewish tradition; he attended a religious primary school (heder) and then went to a local yeshiva for Torah and talmudic studies. In 1944, at the age of fifteen, he was interned in several German concentration camps, where his parents and his younger sister all perished. Upon his release from Buchenwald in April 1945, he went to France as a displaced person. Within three years, after working as a choir director and Bible teacher, he was able to begin university studies at the Sorbonne, where he majored in philosophy, literature, and psychology.

Wiesel first worked in journalism. As a writer for French newspapers covering Israel’s 1948 war for independence and related Middle Eastern events, he traveled extensively. These travels eventually brought him to the United States in 1956. In the same year, Wiesel published his first literary work, a massive autobiographical account of his experience of the Holocaust, Un di Velt hot geshvign (and the world remained silent). From this work, written in Yiddish and published in Argentina, Wiesel quarried the book that made him famous: Night, a brief but unforgettable Holocaust memoir, written in French and soon widely translated.

Elie Wiesel during the session 'Message from Davos: Believing in the Future' at the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 27, 2008.

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By World Economic Forum [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Writer and political activist Elie Wiesel at the Time 100 Gala, May 3, 2010. Photo by David Shankbone.

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By User:David Shankbone [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Because of visa complications, Wiesel was unable to return to France. After applying for immigrant status in the United States, he served as United Nations correspondent for a New York Yiddish newspaper. At the same time, he was working on his first novel, which appeared first in French, then in English translation. Over the next few years, he published a novel almost every year. He became an American citizen in 1963, and by 1964 he had gained sufficient recognition as an author to abandon his salaried work as a journalist. For the next few years, until his first academic appointment, he was able to earn a living through his writing and lecturing. An important experience that affected both his work as a novelist and as a lecturer occurred in 1965 when he visited the Soviet Union. There, he observed conditions of Jewish life under the Soviet regime, a subject that became the focus of a series of articles published in 1966 under the title The Jews of Silence. This work was followed by another novel, A Beggar in Jerusalem, based on Wiesel’s impressions of Israel’s experience of the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War. The book, originally published in French, earned the author the Prix Médicis.

In 1969, Wiesel married Marion Erster Rose, a concentration-camp survivor, who soon contributed directly to her husband’s literary pursuits by translating his works into English. By this date, Wiesel had completed his first drama, Zalmen, which had to wait six years before being performed for the first time in Washington, DC. In 1970, another autobiographical work reflecting on the experience of the Holocaust, One Generation After, gained international recognition and prepared the way for Wiesel’s first academic appointment, in 1972, to a distinguished professorship of Jewish studies at the City College of New York. From this point, and without interrupting his active career as a writer, Wiesel was involved in a number of academic and humanitarian public-service posts. In 1976, he was appointed to a special chair in the humanities at Boston University, a position he maintained while lecturing (in 1982–83) at Yale University. Wiesel was named by President Jimmy Carter to chair the President’s Special Commission on the Holocaust in 1979, but he resigned from this post to protest President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 visit to the German military cemetery in Bitburg.

Increasingly, recognition was extended to Wiesel as a writer driven by an intense dedication to the cause of world peace. This recognition came first in the form of the Belgian International Peace Prize, which was awarded to Wiesel in 1983. In quick succession after this, Wiesel received special awards from French president François Mitterrand and American president Reagan (1984). The crowning recognition was the award in 1986 of the Nobel Peace Prize, which he dedicated to all the remaining survivors of the Holocaust.

Afterward, Wiesel continued to speak out on behalf of the downtrodden and disinherited, and he continued to produce both fiction and nonfiction. In The Forgotten he reprised the important themes of memory, remembrance, and mental and psychological forgetting, all of which are themes of earlier works as well. In 1994, he published All Rivers Run to the Sea, the first volume of his memoirs. The second and final volume of his memoirs, And the Sea Is Never Full, was first published in French two years later.

While still writing nonfiction works about the Holocaust into the twenty-first century, including After the Darkness: Reflections on the Holocaust (2002), Wiesel also continued to publish novels, first in French and subsequently translated into English, that deal with the subject as well as more general themes revolving around morality and tortured souls, such as A Mad Desire to Dance (2009), The Sonderberg Case (2010), and Hostage (2012). He wrote his final book, a work of nonfiction that was published in French before being translated and published in English as Open Heart in 2012, as a reflection on his life and mortality that centers upon him having had to undergo heart surgery. Following an illness, he died at his home in Manhattan on July 2, 2016, at the age of eighty-seven.

Author Works Long Fiction: L’Aube, 1960 (novella; Dawn, 1961) Le Jour, 1961 (novella; The Accident, 1962) La Ville de la chance, 1962 (The Town Beyond the Wall, 1964) Les Portes de la forêt, 1964 (The Gates of the Forest, 1966) Le Mendiant de Jérusalem, 1968 (A Beggar in Jerusalem, 1970) Le Serment de Kolvillàg, 1973 (The Oath, 1973) Le Testament d’un poète juif assassiné, 1980 (The Testament, 1981) Le Cinquième Fils, 1983 (The Fifth Son, 1985) Le Crépuscule, au loin, 1987 (Twilight, 1988) L’Oublié, 1989 (The Forgotten, 1992) Les Juges, 1999 (The Judges, 2002) Le temps des déracinés, 2003 (The Time of the Uprooted, 2005) Un désir fou de danser, 2006 (A Mad Desire to Dance, 2009) Le cas Sonderberg, 2008 (The Sonderberg Case, 2010) Otage, 2010 (Hostage, 2012) Short Fiction: Le Chant des Morts, 1966 (essays and short stories; Legends of Our Time, 1968) Entre deux soleils, 1970 (essays and short stories; One Generation After, 1970) Un Juif aujourd’hui, 1977 (essays and short stories; A Jew Today, 1978) Drama: Zalmen: Ou, La Folie de Dieu, pb. 1968 (Zalmen: Or, The Madness of God, 1974) Le Procès de Shamgorod tel qu’il se déroula le 25 février 1649, pb. 1979 (The Trial of God: As It Was Held on February 25, 1649, in Shamgorod, 1979) Nonfiction: Un di Velt hot geshvign, 1956 (in Yiddish), 1958 (in French as La Nuit; Night, 1960) Les Juifs du silence, 1966 (travel sketch; The Jews of Silence, 1966) Discours d’Oslo, 1987 Le mal et l’exil: Recontre avec Élie Wiesel, 1988 (Evil and Exile, 1990) From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences, 1990 A Journey of Faith, 1990 (with John Cardinal O’Connor) Tous les fleuves vont à la mer, 1994 (memoir; All Rivers Run to the Sea, 1995) Et la mer n’est pas remplie, 1996 (And the Sea Is Never Full: Memoirs, 1999) Le Mal et l’exil: Dix ans après, 1999 Conversations with Elie Wiesel, 2001 (Thomas J. Vinciguerra, editor) After the Darkness: Reflections on the Holocaust, 2002 Elie Wiesel: Conversations, 2002 (Robert Franciosi, editor) Wise Men and Their Tales: Portraits of Biblical, Talmudic, and Hasidic Masters, 2003 Rashi, 2009 Coeur Ouvert, 2011 (Open Heart, 2012) Miscellaneous: Célébration hassidique, 1972-1981 (2 volumes; biographical sketches and stories; volume 1 Souls on Fire, 1972; volume 2 Somewhere a Master: Further Hasidic Portraits and Legends, 1982) Ani Maamin: Un Chant perdu et retrouvé, 1973 (cantata; Ani Maamin: A Song Lost and Found Again, 1973) Célébration biblique, 1975 (biographical sketches and stories; Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends, 1976) Four Hasidic Masters and Their Struggle Against Melancholy, 1978 (biographical sketches and stories) Images from the Bible, 1980 (biographical sketches and stories) Five Biblical Portraits, 1981 (biographical sketches and stories) Paroles d’étranger, 1982 (biographical sketches and stories) Somewhere a Master, 1982 (biographical sketches and stories) The Six Days of Destruction: Meditations Towards Hope, 1988 (with Albert H. Friedlander) Silences et mémoire d’hommes: Essais, histoires, dialogues, 1989 Célébration talmudique: Portraits et légendes, 1991 Sages and Dreamers: Biblical, Talmudic, and Hasidic Portraits and Legends, 1991 Célébration prophétique: Portraits et légendes, 1998 Celebrating Elie Wiesel: Stories, Essays, Reflections, 1998 (Alan Rosen, editor) Children’s/Young Adult Literature: King Solomon and His Magic Ring, 1999 Bibliography Abramowitz, Molly, comp. Elie Wiesel: A Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1974. Dated but still valuable annotated bibliography of works by and about Wiesel. Berenbaum, Michael. Elie Wiesel: God, the Holocaust, and the Children of Israel. West Orange, N.J.: Behrman House, 1994. This reprint of The Vision of the Void, Berenbaum’s thoughtful 1979 study of Elie Wiesel, emphasizes Wiesel’s insights about Jewish tradition. Berenbaum, Michael. The Vision of the Void: Theological Reflections on the Works of Elie Wiesel. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1979. Although discussing works published before 1979, this is an excellent study of the Jewish tradition as evident in Wiesel’s religious writings and sociocultural position. The bibliography on theological philosophy is quite useful. Berger, Joseph. "Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz Survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dies at 87." The New York Times, 2 July 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/world/europe/elie-wiesel-auschwitz-survivor-and-nobel-peace-prize-winner-dies-at-87.html. Accessed 5 May 2017. Obituary covering Wiesel's life and career. Bloom, Harold, ed. Elie Wiesel’s “Night.” New York: Chelsea House, 2001. A collection of critical essays representing the spectrum of response to Wiesel’s memoir. Brown, Robert McAfee. Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity. Rev. ed. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989. A leading Christian theologian provides an important overview and interpretation of Wiesel’s multifaceted writing. Cargas, Harry James. Conversations with Elie Wiesel. South Bend, Ind.: Justice Books, 1992. An updated and expanded edition of Cargas’s 1976 interviews with Wiesel, this important book features Wiesel speaking not only about the Holocaust but also about his audience, craft, and mission as a witness and writer. Estess, Ted L. Elie Wiesel. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Despite its brevity, this general introduction is well argued and often insightful. Horowitz, Rosemary, ed. Elie Wiesel and the Art of Storytelling. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2006. This volume consists of an introduction, ten articles written by scholars of Wiesel’s work, and two essays about his autobiography, Night. The essays focus on the ways in which Wiesel’s cultural background has influenced his writing and how he maintains the Jewish storytelling tradition. However, this book is more than a collection of praises for Wiesel; it is a critical examination of his writing style and the content of his works. Horowitz, Sara. Voicing the Void: Muteness and Memory in Holocaust Fiction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. Contains a helpful discussion of Wiesel’s emphasis on the importance of memory. Kolbert, Jack. The Worlds of Elie Wiesel: An Overview of His Career and His Major Themes. Snelinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 2001. A useful starting point for Wiesel’s work. Combines biography with literary and philosophical analysis. Mass, Wendy, ed. Readings on “Night.” New York: Greenhaven Press, 2000. Includes biographical chapters, a summary of the plot and characters of Wiesel’s book, and discussion of major themes, the author’s art, relationships in the novel, literary interpretation, and the legacy of the book. Patterson, David. In Dialogue and Dilemma with Elie Wiesel. Wakefield, N.H.: Longwood Academic, 1991. In a series of fascinating interviews, Wiesel speaks not only about the Holocaust but also about his audience, his craft, and his mission as a writer and witness. Patterson, David. The Shriek of Silence: A Phenomenology of the Holocaust Novel. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992. Patterson’s book explores the distinctive ways in which Wiesel wrestles with the theme of silence as a feature of the Holocaust and its aftermath. Rittner, Carol, ed. Elie Wiesel: Between Memory and Hope. New York: New York University Press, 1990. A balanced collection of provocative essays, written by scholars from different disciplines. Rosen, Alan, ed. Celebrating Elie Wiesel: Stories, Essays, Reflections. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998. Distinguished scholars reflect on the ethical and religious dimensions of Wiesel’s essays and novels. Rosenfeld, Alvin H., and Irving Greenberg, eds. Confronting the Holocaust: The Impact of Elie Wiesel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978. Including “Why I Write,” a significant essay by Wiesel, this volume contains a balanced collection of worthwhile essays written by scholars from varied disciplines. Roth, John K., and Frederick Sontag. The Questions of Philosophy. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1988. Wiesel’s perspectives on the relationships among God, evil, and human responsibility are discussed in a chapter entitled “How Should I Deal with Evil and Death?” Sibelman, Simon P. Silence in the Novels of Elie Wiesel. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. This study of a dominant theme in Wiesel is thorough, intelligent, and stimulating. Stern, Ellen Norman. Elie Wiesel: Witness for Life. New York: Ktav, 1982. A fine and useful biography that deals more with the man than with his writings. Wiesel, Elie, and Richard D. Heffner. Conversations with Elie Wiesel. Edited by Thomas J. Vinciguerra. New York: Schocken, 2001. A dialog between Wiesel and his interviewer. Offers the reader a wide-ranging discussion in which Wiesel touches on tolerance, nationalism, and state-endorsed killing.

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