30 Sep Elie Wiesel – The Holocaust’s Greatest Witness
Elie Wiesel was without doubt the greatest of what we call the “witnesses” to the Holocaust – the mass murder of the Jews during World War II. His books and lectures recalling the horror of those times brought to the world’s consciousness the unprecedented barbaric period in human history.
Wiesel was born on Sept. 30, 1928, in Sighet, Romania. In May 1944, the Hungarian authorities, under German domination, began to deport the Jewish community to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where up to 90 percent of the people were murdered on arrival. Wiesel was 15 at the time.
Immediately after they were sent to Auschwitz, Wiesel’s mother and his younger sister were murdered. Wiesel and his father were selected to perform labor so long as they remained able-bodied. Afterwards, they were taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, where his father died before the camp was liberated by the U.S. Third Army on April 11, 1945. After World War II ended and Wiesel was freed, he joined a transport of 1,000 child survivors of Buchenwald to France, where he was looked after in a children’s rehabilitation center.
Later, Wiesel traveled to Paris, where he studied literature, philosophy and psychology at the Sorbonne. By the time he was 19, he had begun working as a journalist, writing in French, while also teaching Hebrew. He wrote for Israeli and French newspapers.
Wiesel’s first book containing his war memoirs, “Night,” was eventually translated into 30 languages, with ten million copies sold in the United States. In 1955, Wiesel moved to New York as foreign correspondent for the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot.
In the U.S., Wiesel went on to write over 40 books, most of them non-fiction Holocaust literature and novels. As an author, he has been awarded a number of literary prizes and is considered among the most important in describing the Holocaust from a highly personal perspective.
Wiesel and his wife, Marion, started the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity in 1986. He served as chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust (later renamed the US Holocaust Memorial Council) from 1978 to 1986, spearheading the building of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Wiesel became a popular speaker on the subject of the Holocaust. As a political activist, he also 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 and the Kurds.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for speaking out against violence, repression and racism. He also received many other prizes and honors for his work, including the US Congressional Gold Medal in 1985 and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. In all, Wiesel received more than 90 honorary degrees from colleges and universities worldwide, .as well as many other honors from countries around the world.
Wiesel often emphasized the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. He stated that “Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture — and not a single time in the Koran. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city.”
Wiesel died on the morning of July 2, 2016, at his home in Manhattan, aged 87.
Utah senator Orrin Hatch paid tribute to Wiesel in a speech on the Senate floor the following week, where he said that “with Elie’s passing, we have lost a beacon of humanity and hope. We have lost a hero of human rights and a luminary of Holocaust literature.”