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elie wiesel
Julia Malakie/AP

Celebrating Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner

April 21, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
Although Elie Wiesel survived the Holocaust, he watched his family die at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. Through his work as a journalist, author and professor, he has devoted his life to ensuring that the horrors of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s are never forgotten—and can never happen again. Thanks to Wiesel's efforts and the efforts of other inspiring people, the world has plenty of resources with which to observe Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Early Days

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Elie Wiesel was born in the Jewish village of Sighet in Transylvania on Sept. 30, 1928. His family spoke Yiddish at home and the young boy was devoted to his religious studies in classical Hebrew.

In 1944, the Nazis arrived in Sighet and the Jewish inhabitants were transported to concentration camps in Poland. Wiesel, then 15 years old, was separated from his mother and sister after arriving in Auschwitz; he never saw them again. His father later died of dysentery and starvation.

After the war, Wiesel found asylum in France and became a professional journalist, writing for newspapers in France and Israel. He observed a self-imposed vow of silence for 10 years and refused to write about his life during the war.

Notable Accomplishments

Weisel was encouraged to write about his experience in the concentration camps. In 1955, he wrote a memoir in Yiddish. It was a 900-page book first published in Argentina. He later compressed the work into a French adapation entitled "Night." After a new translation, "Night" reemerged as a New York Times best seller in 2006. Learn more about the author and his heartbreaking memoir at the book’s official Web site.

2006 was a big year for "Night"—the book was also chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection. Read Oprah's one-on-one with Wiesel to learn why he thinks the book is relevant today, and to tour the grounds of Auschwitz together with Wiesel and Oprah.

While in New York in 1956, Wiesel was hit by a taxi and confined to a wheelchair for nearly a year. He was unable to renew his residence in France and became an American citizen. He was a feature writer for the Jewish Daily Forward in New York and went on to write several novels and plays.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Wiesel the Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in 1978. In 1985, he won the Congressional Medal of Freedom and in 1986, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Time magazine sat down with Wiesel in 2006 to ask the writer 10 questions. Find out what he had to say about Kabbalah’s newfound popularity, and why he admires Moses.

The Rest of the Story

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan planned to visit the Bitburg cemetery in West Germany to show respect for fallen Allied troops. The History Channel (U.K.) provides the text to Wiesel’s now-famous address in which he asked Reagan to cancel his visit because many of Hitler's Waffen soldiers are also buried at Bitburg. According to The History Channel Web site, "Reagan eventually did visit the cemetery, but deliberately turned his back when he neared the SS graves."

Through domestic and international programs, The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity strives to “combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogues and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality.” Visit the site to learn about the Foundation's position on the Bernard Madoff scandal and to see what the Foundation is doing to help victims of the genocide in Darfur.

Wiesel has been the Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities at Boston University since 1976. He lives in New York City with his wife, Marion, and their son, Elisha. His latest book is "A Mad Desire to Dance" (2009).
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