Wiesel, Elie 1928–
Wiesel, Elie 1928–
PERSONAL: Born September 30, 1928, in Sighet, Romania; immigrated to the United States, 1956, naturalized U.S. citizen, 1963; son of Shlomo (a grocer) and Sarah (Feig) Wiesel; married Marion Erster Rose, 1969; children: Shlomo Elisha. Education: Attended Sorbonne, University of Paris, 1948–51. Religion: Jewish.
ADDRESSES: Office—University Professors, Boston University, 745 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 02215; and Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, 529 Fifth Ave., Ste. 1802, New York, NY 10017. Agent—Georges Borchardt, 136 East 57th St., New York, NY 10022.
CAREER: Foreign correspondent at various times for Yedioth Ahronoth, Tel Aviv, Israel, L'Arche, Paris, France, and Jewish Daily Forward, New York, NY, 1949–; City College of the City University of New York, New York, NY, distinguished professor, 1972–76; Boston University, Boston, MA, Andrew Mellon professor in the humanities, 1976–, professor of philosophy, 1988–; cofounder with wife, Marion, of Elie Wie-sel Foundation for Humanity, 1986–. Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, New Haven, CT, Henry Luce visiting scholar in Humanities and Social Thought, 1982–83; Florida International University, Miami, distinguished visiting professor of literature and philosophy, 1982. Chair, United States President's Commission on the Holocaust, 1979–80, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, 1980–86. On advisory board of over seventy organizations.
MEMBER: Amnesty International, PEN, Writers Guild of America, Author's Guild, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow), Jewish Academy of Arts and Sciences, European Academy of Arts and Sciences, Foreign Press Association (honorary lifetime member), Writers and Artists for Peace in the Middle East, Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters, Universal Academy of Cultures, Paris (founding president), Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Prix Rivarol, 1963; Remembrance Award, 1965, for The Town beyond the Wall and all other writings; William and Janice Epstein Fiction Award, Jewish Book Council, 1965, for The Town beyond the Wall; Jewish Heritage Award, 1966, for excellence in literature; Prix Medicis, 1969, for Le Mendiant de Jerusalem; Prix Bordin, French Academy, 1972; Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial Award, 1972; American Liberties Medallion, American Jewish Committee, 1972; Frank and Ethel S. Cohen Award, Jewish Book Council, 1973, for Souls on Fire; Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, City College of the City University of New York, 1973; Faculty Distinguished Scholar Award, Hofstra University, 1973–74; Joseph Prize for Human Rights, Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 1978; Zalman Shazar Award, State of Israel, 1979; Jabotinsky Medal, State of Israel, 1980; Prix Livre-International, 1980, and Prix des Bibliothecaires, 1981, both for Le Testament d'un poete juif assassine; Anatoly Scharan-sky Humanitarian Award, 1983; Congressional Gold Medal, 1985; humanitarian award, International League for Human Rights, 1985; Freedom Cup award, Women's League of Israel, 1986; Nobel Peace Prize, 1986; Medal of Libery Award, 1986; Special Christopher Book Award, 1987; achievement award, Artists and Writers for Peace in the Middle East, 1987; Profiles of Courage award, B'nai B'rith, 1987; Human Rights Law Award, International Human Rights Law Group, 1988; Presidential medal, Hofstra University, 1988; Human Rights Law award, International Human Rights Law Group, 1988; Bicentennial medal, Georgetown University, 1988; Janus Korczak Humanitarian award, NAHE, Kent State University, 1989; Count Sforza award in Philanthropy Interphil, 1989; Lily Edelman award for Excellence in Continuing Jewish Education, B'nai B'rith International, 1989; George Washington award, American Hungarian Foundation, 1989; Bicentennial medal, New York University, 1989; Humanitar-ian award Human Rights Campaign Fund, 1989; International Brotherhood award, C.O.R.E., 1990; Frank Weil award for distinguished contribution to the advancement of North American Jewish culture, Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, 1990; first Raoul Wallenberg medal, University of Michigan, 1990; Award of Highest Honor, Soka University, 1991; Facing History and Ourselves Humanity award, 1991; La Medaille de la Ville de Toulouse, 1991; Fifth Centennial Christopher Columbus medal, City of Genoa, 1992; first Primo Levi award, 1992; Ellis Island Medal of Honor, 1992; Presidential Medal of Freedom Literature Arts award, National Foundation for Jewish Culture, 1992; Ellis Island Medal of Honor, 1992; Guardian of the Children award, AKIM USA, 1992; Bishop Francis J. Mugavero award for religious and racial harmony, Queens College, 1994; Golden Slipper Humanitarian award, 1994; Interfaith Council on the Holocaust Humanitarian award, 1994; Crystal award, Davos World Economic Forum, 1995; first Niebuhr award, Elmhurst College, 1995; President's Award, Quinnipiac College, 1996; Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement, 1996; Lotos Medal of Merit, Lotos Club, 1996; Guardian of Zion Award, Bar-Ilan University, 1997; Canterbury Medalist, Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, 1998; American Bar Association Annual Award, 1998; Rabbi Marc H. Tannenbaum Award for the Advancement of Interreligious Understanding, 1998; Yitzhak Rabin Peacemaker Award, Merrimack College, 1998; Aesop Prize, Children's Folklore Section, American Folklore Society, for King Solomon and His Magic Ring, 1999; Raoul Wallenberg International Humanitarian Award, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, 1999; Mathilde Schechter Award, Women's League for Conservative Judaism, 2000; Manhattan Award, National Arts Club, 2000; Benediction Medal, Delbarton School, 2001; Humanitarian of the Year Award, New York Society of Association Executives, 2002; Dean's Medal, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, 2002; Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award, American Jewish Historical Society, 2002; Lifetime Visionary Award, Israeli Film Festival, New York, 2002; named Humanitarian of the Century, Council of Jewish Organizations; recipient of over 100 honorary degrees; Oprah Book Club selection, for Night; honors established in his name: Elie Wiesel Award for Holocaust Research, University of Haifa; Elie Wiesel Chair in Holocaust Studies, Bar-Ilan University; Elie Wiesel Endowment Fund for Jewish Culture, University of Denver; Elie Wiesel Distinguished Service Award, University of Florida; Elie Wiesel Awards for Jewish Arts and Culture, B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundations; Elie Wiesel Chair in Judaic Studies, Connecticut College; Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics, Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.
Un Di Velt Hot Geshvign (title means "And the World Has Remained Silent"), [Buenos Aires], 1956, abridged French translation published as La Nuit (also see below), foreword by Francois Mauriac, Editions de Minuit (Paris, France), 1958, translation by Stella Rodway published as Night (also see below), Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1960.
L'Aube (also see below), Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1961, translation by Frances Frenaye published as Dawn (also see below), Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1961.
Le Jour (also see below), Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1961, translation by Anne Borchardt published as The Accident (also see below), Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1962.
La Ville de la chance, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1962, translation by Stephen Becker published as The Town beyond the Wall, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1964, new edition, Holt (New York, NY), 1967.
Les Portes de la foret, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1964, translation by Frances Frenaye published as The Gates of the Forest, Holt (New York, NY), 1966.
Le Chant des morts, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1966, translation published as Legends of Our Time, Holt (New York, NY), 1968.
The Jews of Silence: A Personal Report on Soviet Jewry (originally published in Hebrew as a series of articles for newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth), translation and afterword by Neal Kozodoy, Holt (New York, NY), 1966, 2nd edition, Vallentine, Mitchell, 1973.
Zalmen; ou, la Folie de Dieu (play), 1966, translation by Lily and Nathan Edelman published as Zalmen; or, The Madness of God, Holt (New York, NY), 1968.
Le Mendiant de Jerusalem, 1968, translation by the author and L. Edelman published as A Beggar in Jerusalem, Random House (New York, NY), 1970.
La Nuit, L'Aube, [and] Le Jour, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1969, translation published as Night, Dawn, [and] The Accident: Three Tales, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1972, reprinted as The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, The Accident, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1987, translation by Stella Rodway published as Night, Dawn, Day, Aronson (New York, NY), 1985.
Entre deux soleils, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1970, translation by the author and L. Edelman published as One Generation After, Random House (New York, NY), 1970.
Celebration Hassidique: Portraits et legendes, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1972, translation by wife, Marion Wiesel, published as Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters, Random House (New York, NY), 1972.
Le Serment de Kolvillag, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1973, translation by Marion Wiesel published as The Oath, Random House (New York, NY), 1973.
Ani maamin: A Song Lost and Found Again (cantata), music composed by Darius Milhaud, Random House (New York, NY), 1974.
Celebration Biblique: Portraits et legendes, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1975, translation by Marion Wiesel published as Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends, Random House (New York, NY), 1976.
Un Juif aujourd'hui: Recits, essais, dialogues, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1977, translation by Marion Wiesel published as A Jew Today, Random House (New York, NY), 1978.
(With others) Dimensions of the Holocaust, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1977.
Four Hasidic Masters and Their Struggle against Melancholy, University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 1978.
Le Proces de Shamgorod tel qu'il se deroula le 25 fevrier 1649: Piece en trois actes, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1979, translation by Marion Wiesel published as The Trial of God (As It Was Held on February 25, 1649, in Shamgorod): A Play in Three Acts, Random House (New York, NY), 1979, reprinted, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Images from the Bible, illustrated with paintings by Shalom of Safed, Overlook Press (New York, NY), 1980.
Le Testament d'un poete Juif assassine, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1980, translation by Marion Wiesel published as The Testament, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.
Five Biblical Portraits, University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 1981.
Somewhere a Master, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982, reprinted as Somewhere a Master: Further Tales of the Hasidic Masters, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1984.
Paroles d'etranger, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1982.
The Golem: The Story of a Legend As Told by Elie Wiesel (fiction), illustrated by Mark Podwal, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1983.
Le Cinquieme Fils, Grasset (Paris, France), 1983, translation by M. Wiesel published as The Fifth Son, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1985.
Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel, three volumes, edited by Irving Abrahamson, Holocaust Library, 1985.
Signes d'exode, Grasset (Paris, France), 1985.
Job ou Dieu dans la tempete, Grasset (Paris, France), 1986.
Le Crepuscule au loin, Grasset (Paris, France), 1987, translation by Marion Wiesel published as Twilight, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1988, reprinted, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 1995.
(With Albert H. Friedlander) The Six Days of Destruction, Paulist Press (Mahwah, NJ), 1989.
L'Oublie: Roman, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1989.
(With Philippe-Michael de Saint-Cheron) Evil and Exile, translated by Jon Rothschild, University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 1990.
From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1990.
The Forgotten (novel), translated by Stephen Becker, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1992.
(With Salomon Malka) Monsieur Chouchani: L'Enigme d'un maitre du XX siecle: Entretiens avec Elie Wiesel, suivis d'une enquete, J.C. Lattes (Paris, France), 1994.
Tous les fleuves vont a la mer: Memoires, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1994, published as All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.
(With Francois Mitterrand) Memoire a deux voix, Jacob (Paris, France), 1995, published as Memoir in Two Voices, Arcade (New York, NY), 1996.
Das Gegenteil von Gleichgueltigkeit ist Erinnerung: Versuche zu Elie Wiesel, edited by Dagmar Men-sink and Reinhold Boschki, Matthias-Gruenewald-Verlag (Mainz, Germany), 1995.
Jorge Semprun, Semprun, Wiesel: Se taire est impossible, Editions Mille et une nuits (Paris, France), 1995.
(Author of foreword) Robert Krell and Marc I. Sherman, editors, Medical and Psychological Effects of Concentration Camps on Holocaust Survivors, Transaction Publishers (New Brunswick, NJ), 1997.
Ethics and Memory, with a preface by Wolf Lepenies, W. de Gruyter (New York, NY), 1997.
Celebration prophetique: Portraits et legendes, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1998.
Alan Rosen, editor, Celebrating Elie Wiesel: Stories, Essays, Reflections, University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 1998.
King Solomon and His Magic Ring, paintings by Mark Podwal, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Ekkehard Schuster and Reinhold Boschert-Kimmig, Hope against Hope: Johann Baptist Metz and Elie Wiesel Speak Out on the Holocaust, translated by J. Matthew Ashley, Paulist Press (New York, NY), 1999.
And the Sea Is Never Full: Memoirs, 1969–, translated from the French by Marion Wiesel, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Richard D. Heffner) Conversations with Elie Wiesel, edited by Thomas J. Vinciguerra, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Judges, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
After the Darkness, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Elie Wiesel: Conversations, edited by Robert Franciosi, University of Mississippi Press (Jackson, MS), 2002.
Also author of A Song for Hope, 1987, and The Nobel Speech, 1987.
Contributor to numerous periodicals.
SIDELIGHTS: In the spring of 1944, the Nazis entered the Transylvanian village of Sighet, Romania, until then a relatively safe and peaceful enclave in the middle of a war-torn continent. Arriving with orders to exterminate an estimated 600,000 Jews in six weeks or less, Adolf Eichmann, chief of the Gestapo's Jewish section, began making arrangements for a mass deportation program. Among those forced to leave their homes was fifteen-year-old Elie Wiesel, the only son of a grocer and his wife. A serious and devoted student of the Talmud and the mystical teachings of Hasidism and the Cabala, the young man had always assumed he would spend his entire life in Sighet, quietly contemplating the religious texts and helping out in the family's store from time to time. Instead, along with his father, mother, and three sisters, Wiesel was herded onto a train bound for Birkenau, the reception center for the infamous death camp Auschwitz.
For reasons he still finds impossible to comprehend, Wiesel survived Birkenau and later Auschwitz and Buna and Buchenwald; his father, mother, and youngest sister did not (he did not learn until after the war that his older sisters also survived). With nothing and no one in Sighet for him to go back to, Wiesel boarded a train for Belgium with four hundred other orphans who, like him, had no reason or desire to return to their former homes. On orders of General Charles de Gaulle, head of the French provisional government after World War II, the train was diverted to France, where border officials asked the children to raise their hands if they wanted to become French citizens. As Wiesel (who at that time neither spoke nor understood French) recalled in the Washington Post, "A lot of them did. They thought they were going to get bread or something; they would reach out for anything. I didn't, so I remained stateless."
Wiesel chose to stay in France for a while, settling first in Normandy and later in Paris, doing whatever he could to earn a living: tutoring, directing a choir, translating. Eventually he began working as a reporter for various French and Jewish publications. But he could not quite bring himself to write about what he had seen and felt at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Doubtful of his—or of anyone's—ability to convey the horrible truth without diminishing it, Wiesel vowed never to make the attempt.
The young journalist's self-imposed silence came to an end in the mid-1950s, however, after he met and interviewed the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Francois Mau-riac. Deeply moved upon learning of Wiesel's tragic youth, Mauriac urged him to speak out and tell the world of his experiences, to "bear witness" for the millions of men, women, and children whom death, and not despair, had silenced. The result was Night, the story of a teen-age boy plagued with guilt for having survived the camps and devastated by the realization that the God he had once worshipped so devoutly allowed his people to be destroyed. For the most part autobiographical, it was, stated Richard M. Elman in the New Republic, "a document as well as a work of literature—journalism which emerged, coincidentally, as a work of art."
Described by the Nation's Daniel Stern as "undoubtedly the single most powerful literary relic of the holocaust," Night is the first in a series of nonfiction books and autobiographical novels this "lyricist of lamentation" has written that deal, either directly or indirectly, with the Holocaust. "He sees the present always refracted through the prism of these earlier days," commented James Finn in the New Republic. The New York Times's Thomas Lask agreed, stating: "For [more than] twenty-five years, Elie Wiesel has been in one form or another a witness to the range, bestiality, and completeness of the destruction of European Jewry by the Germans…. Auschwitz informs everything he writes—novels, legends, dialogues. He is not belligerent about it, only unyielding. Nothing he can say measures up to the enormity of what he saw, what others endured." Writing in Nonfiction Classics for Students, Kelly Winters explained that Wiesel tells his story in Night using simple, direct statements: "The story is told in an extremely understated, tight style. Wiesel does not tell the reader what to think; he simply presents events as plainly as possible and lets them speak for themselves. The events, such as the mass killing of babies who are thrown into a flaming furnace, or the hanging of children, are so horrifying that Wiesel does not need to belabor them or to express his own terror or anger directly; his taut style and emotional restraint make them even more believable and frightening."
Other novels by Wiesel about the Jewish experience during and after the Holocaust include Dawn and The Accident, which were later published together with Night in The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, The Accident. Like Night, the other two books in the trilogy have concentration camp survivors as their central characters. Dawn concerns the experiences of one survivor just after World War II who joins the Jewish underground efforts to form an independent Israeli state; and The Accident is about a man who discovers that his collision with an automobile was actually caused by his subconscious, guilt-ridden desire to commit suicide. "Wiesel's writings after Night have been attempts to reclaim faith in language, in humanity, in God, and in himself," explained Jane Elizabeth Dougherty in an essay for Novels for Students. "In Night, faith seems an incredible burden, a hindrance to survival, and yet it remains the only way in which the Jews can survive the horrors of the Holocaust. In the context of the concentration camp universe, Wiesel suggests that the only thing more dangerous than faith is disbelief."
In two of Wiesel's later novels, The Testament and The Fifth Son, the author also explores the effects of the Holocaust on the next generation of Jews. Some critics, such as Globe and Mail contributor Bronwyn Drainie, have questioned the validity of the author's belief that children of Holocaust survivors would be "as morally galvanized by the Nazi nightmare as the survivors themselves." But, asserted Richard F. Shepard in the New York Times, even if the feelings of these children cannot be generalized, "the author does make all of us 'children' of that generation, all of us who were not there, in the sense that he outlines for us the burdens of guilt, of revenge, of despair."
Indeed, the Holocaust and the Jewish religious and philosophical tradition involve experiences and beliefs shared by a great many people, including other writers. But as Kenneth Turan declared in the Washington Post Book World, Elie Wiesel has become "much more than just a writer. He is a symbol, a banner, and a beacon, perhaps the survivor of the Holocaust…. He seems to own the horror of the death camps, or, rather, the horror owns him." But it is a moral and spiritual, not a physical, horror that obsesses Wiesel and obliges him to compose what Dan Isaac of the Nation called "an angry message to God, filled with both insane rage and stoical acceptance; calculated to stir God's wrath, but careful not to trigger an apocalypse." Explained Isaac's Nation colleague Laurence Goldstein: "For Elie Wiesel memory is an instrument of revelation. Each word he uses to document the past transforms both the work and the memory into an act of faith. The writings of Elie Wiesel are a journey into the past blackened by the Nazi death camps where the charred souls of its victims possess the sum of guilt and endurance that mark the progress of man. It is a compulsive, fevered, single-minded search among the ashes for a spark that can be thrust before the silent eyes of God himself."
Unlike those who dwell primarily on the physical horror, then, Wiesel writes from the perspective of a passionately religious man whose faith has been profoundly shaken by what he has witnessed. As Goldstein remarked, "He must rediscover himself…. Although he has not lost God, he must create out of the pain and numbness a new experience that will keep his God from vanishing among the unforgettable faces of the thousands whose bodies he saw." According to Maurice Friedman of Commonweal, Wiesel is, in fact, "the most moving embodiment of the Modern Job": a man who questions—in books that "form one unified outcry, one sustained protest, one sobbing and singing prayer"—why the just must suffer while the wicked flourish. This debate with God is one of the central themes of what a Newsweek critic referred to as Wiesel's "God-tormented, God-intoxicated" fiction.
In addition to his intense preoccupation with ancient Jewish philosophy, mythology, and history, Wiesel displays a certain affinity with modern French existentialists, an affinity Josephine Knopp believed is a direct consequence of the Holocaust. Wrote Knopp in Contemporary Literature: "To the young Wiesel the notion of an 'absurd' universe would have been a completely alien one…. The traditional Jewish view holds that life's structure and meaning are fully explained and indeed derive from the divinely granted Torah…. Against this background the reality of Auschwitz confronts the Jew with a dilemma, an 'absurdity' which cannot be dismissed easily and which stubbornly refuses to dissipate of its own accord…. The only possible response that remains within the framework of Judaism is denunciation of God and a demand that He fulfill His contractual obligation [to protect those who worship Him]. This is the religious and moral context within which Wiesel attempts to apprehend and assimilate the events of the Holocaust. [He seeks] to reconcile Auschwitz with Judaism, to confront and perhaps wring meaning from the absurd." In a more recent novel, Twilight, Wiesel explores this absurdity—in this case, he goes so far as to call it madness—of the universe. Again, the protagonist is a Jew, who begins to wonder, as New York Times reviewer John Gross explained, whether "it is mad to go on believing in God. Or perhaps … it is God who is mad: who else but a mad God could have created such a world?"
The strong emphasis on Jewish tradition and Jewish suffering in Wiesel's works does not mean that he speaks only to and for Jews. In fact, maintained Robert McAfee Brown in Christian Century, "writing out of the particularity of his own Jewishness … is how [Wiesel] touches universal chords. He does not write about 'the human condition,' but about 'the Jewish condition.' Correction: in writing about the Jewish condition, he thereby writes about the human condition. For the human condition is not generalized existence; it is a huge, crazy-quilt sum of particularized existences all woven together."
To Stern, this time commenting in the Washington Post Book World, it seemed that "Wiesel has taken the Jew as his metaphor—and his reality—in order to unite a moral and aesthetic vision in terms of all men." Manes Sperber of the New York Times Book Review expressed a similar view, stating that "Wiesel is one of the few writers who, without any plaintiveness, has succeeded in revealing in the Jewish tragedy those features by which it has become again and again a paradigm of the human condition."
According to Michael J. Bandler in the Christian Science Monitor, Wiesel conveys his angry message to God "with a force and stylistic drive that leaves the reader stunned." Concise and uncluttered, yet infused with a highly emotional biblical mysticism, the author's prose "gleams again and again with the metaphor of the poet," wrote Clifford A. Ridley in the National Observer. Though it "never abandons its tender intimacy," reported Sperber, "[Wiesel's] voice comes from far away in space and time. It is the voice of the Talmudic teachers of Jerusalem and Babylon; of medieval mystics; of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav whose tales have inspired generations of Hasidim and so many writers." As Lask observed, "[Wiesel] has made the form of the telling his own. The surreal and the supernatural combine abrasively with the harsh fact; the parable, the rabbinic tale support and sometimes substitute for narrative. The written law and oral tradition support, explain and expand the twentieth-century event." Goldstein, noting the author's "remarkably compassionate tone," declared that "he writes with that possessive reverence for language that celebrates, as much as describes, experience. The written word becomes a powerful assertion, the triumph of life over death and indifference…. Words carved on gravestones, legend torn from the pit where millions of broken bodies lie. This is the inheritance which Elie Wiesel brings to us. His voice claims us with its urgency. His vision lights the mystery of human endurance."
Several critics, however, felt Wiesel's prose does not quite live up to the demands of his subject. Jeffrey Burke, for example, commenting in the New York Times Book Review, stated that the author occasionally "slips into triteness or purple prose or redundancy," and a reviewer for the New Yorker found that Wiesel becomes "nearly delirious" in his intensity. Newsweek's Geoffrey Wolff believed that Wiesel's work at times "suffers from unnecessary confusions, linguistic cliches, dense and purple thickets, and false mystifications. Ideas tend to hobble about … on stilts…. The language, seeking to transport us to another world, collapses beneath the weight of its burden much too often." Burke concluded: "No one can or would deny the seriousness and necessity of Elie Wiesel's role as witness…. It is natural that such a mission would remain uppermost in the writer's mind, but that the requirements of art should proportionately diminish in significance is not an acceptable corollary. [Wiesel tends] to sacrifice the demands of craft to those of conscience."
In defense of Wiesel, Turan stated that "his is a deliberate, elegant style, consciously elevated and poetic, and if he occasionally tries to pack too much into a sentence, to jam it too full of significance and meaning, it is an error easy to forgive." Elman, this time writing in the New York Times Book Review, also found that "some of Wiesel's existentialist parables are deeply flawed by an opacity of language and construction, which may confirm that 'the event was so heavy with horror … that words could not really contain it.' But Wiesel's work is not diminished by his failure to make his shattering theme—God's betrayal of man—consistently explicit." Thus, according to Jonathan Brent in the Chicago Tribune Book World, Wiesel is "the type of writer distinguished by his subject rather than his handling of it…. Such writers must be read not for themselves but for the knowledge they transmit of events, personalities, and social conditions outside their fiction itself. They do not master their material esthetically, but re-main faithful to it; and this constitutes the principal value of their work."
Few agree with these assessments of Wiesel's stylistic abilities, but many support Brent's conclusion that the author is almost compulsively faithful to his subject. As Lawrence L. Langer observed in the Washington Post Book World: "Although Elie Wiesel has announced many times in recent years that he is finished with the Holocaust as a subject for public discourse, it is clear … that the Holocaust has not yet finished with him. Almost from his first volume to his last, his writing has been an act of homage, a ritual of remembrance in response to a dreadful challenge 'to unite the language of man with the silence of the dead'…. If Elie Wiesel returns compulsively to the ruins of the Holocaust world, it is not because he has nothing new to say…. [It is simply that] the man he did not become besieges his imagination and compels him to confirm his appointments with the past that holds him prisoner."
Wiesel expresses what Commonweal's Irving Halpern called "the anguish of a survivor who is unable to exorcise the past or to live with lucidity and grace in the present" in the book Night, his first attempt to bear witness for the dead. Wiesel wrote: "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."
Concern that the truths of the Holocaust, and memories in general, might in time be forgotten has often fueled Wiesel's writing. In comparing his many works, Wiesel remarked to Publishers Weekly interviewer Elizabeth Devereaux, "What do they have in common? Their commitment to memory. What is the opposite of memory? Alzheimer's disease. I began to research this topic and I discovered that this is the worst disease, that every intellectual is afraid of this disease, not just because it is incurable, which is true of other diseases, too. But here the identity is being abolished." From this realization Wiesel created The Forgotten, a novel in which a Holocaust survivor fears he is losing his memories to an unnamed ailment. He beseeches his son to listen and remember as he recounts the events of his life. The dutiful son embarks for Romania to recover the details of his father's experience, including the death of his family at the hands of the Nazis and his role as an Eastern European partisan and freedom fighter for the establishment of Israel. Though Wiesel told Devereaux that this novel is "less autobiographical" than his others, The Forgotten contains recognizable allusions to his own life and work in references to the one-word titles of his first three novels and similarities between the father's childhood village and Wiesel's own. As Frederick Busch observed in the New York Times Book Review, Wiesel "intends to warn us that many of the survivors of the Holocaust are dying, that the cruel truth of the war against the Jews might one day be lost or clouded." Citing the author's "characteristic blend of petition, contemplative discourse, and devotion to Jewish tradition," Jonathan Dorfman wrote in a Chicago Tribune review, "The Forgotten is ample proof that … Wiesel remains a writer of significance and high merit."
The novel The Judges is a moral fable that deals with issues of justice and truth. An airplane is forced to land unexpectedly due to bad weather. Once on the ground, five of the passengers are taken captive by a strange figure who calls himself "the Judge." In a series of probing, intimate questions, the Judge forces the prisoners to face their own deepest selves, their beliefs and values. A Publishers Weekly critic explained that "each character, caught in the facts of his or her past and oriented toward future projects, must confront a present threat that crystallizes their existences." "Courageous and profoundly philosophical," Patrick Sullivan wrote in the Library Journal, "this novel skillfully explores moral questions that have never been more relevant."
Wiesel produced the first volume of his projected two-volume personal memoirs with All Rivers Run to the Sea, spanning the years from his childhood to the 1960s. He begins by recollecting the haunting premonition of a well-known rabbi which foretold the young Wiesel's future greatness, though it predicted that neither Wiesel nor his mother would live to know of his acclaim. In the reminiscence and anecdote that follows, Wiesel revisits his early village life, postwar orphanage and education in France, initiation as a professional journalist, and involvement in events surrounding the birth of Israel. As James E. Young noted in the New Leader, Wiesel devotes only twenty pages of the book to his concentration camp experiences. "Wiesel's memoir is not about what happened during those eleven months," Young wrote, "but about how they shaped his life afterward, how they have been remembered, how he has lived in their shadow." Despite Wiesel's confessed over-sensitivity to criticism and painful episodes of self-doubt, critics noted that his memoir reveals little about the author's personal life that is not evident in his previous works. Daphne Merkin wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "If the reader finishes this book with an impression that the public and private Elie Wiesel seem to dance around each other without ever really connecting, the author has foreseen this: 'Some see their work as a commentary on their life; for others it is the other way around. I count myself among the latter. Consider this account, then, as a kind of commentary.'" Wiesel concluded, as quoted by Vivian Gornick in the Nation: "The aim of the literature I call testimony is to disturb. I disturb the believer because I dare to put questions to God. I disturb the miscreant because I refuse to break with the religious and mystical universe that has shaped my own. Most of all, I disturb those who are comfortably settled within a system—be it political, psychological, or theological."
And the Sea Is Never Full continues Wiesel's life story since 1969. His activities as an activist promoting the memory of the Holocaust and of spreading the word about human rights violations in the Soviet Union are covered in great detail. As Pierre L. Horn noted in World Literature Today, "The emphasis is on Wiesel the public figure rather than the private man." Alvin H. Rosenfeld, writing in the New Leader, explained that "while this is a book of often vivid autobiographical reflection, it is also something more—an anguished probing of the links between memory and traumatic event, memory and justice, memory and the quest for a common morality." A critic for Publishers Weekly stated: "Wiesel's writing is as fluid and evocative as ever, and his storytelling skills turn the events of his own life into a powerful series of morality plays."
In 1996 Memoir in Two Voices, which Wiesel coau-thored with his friend, former French president Francois Mitterrand, was published. The volume offers a glimpse into the life of the former leader, who served as France's president from 1981 to 1995; the topics covered are driven by Wiesel's questions, which are intended to elicit explanations from Mitterrand. The book was characterized by a Publishers Weekly reviewer as containing insights into Mitterrand's personal life that were "as fascinating for their revelations as they [were] for their silences," indicating that the book did not probe as deeply into the mind of the French leader as the critic would have liked. Bonnie Smothers, reviewing Memoir in Two Voices for Booklist, assessed the section of the book in which Wiesel questions Mitterrand about the leader's knowledge of the Nazis' treatment of Jews during World War II as providing "a very enlightening exchange" between the two authors, and called the volume as a whole "a very special book, powerful at times, always provoking the reader's inner thoughts."
Many years after Night, Wiesel is still torn between words and silence. "You must speak," he told a People interviewer, "but how can you, when the full story is beyond language?" Furthermore, he once remarked in the Washington Post, "there is the fear of not being believed,… the fear that the experience will be reduced, made into something acceptable, perhaps forgotten." But as he went on to explain in People: "We [survivors] believe that if we survived, we must do something with our lives. The first task is to tell the tale." In short, concluded Wiesel, "The only way to stop the next holocaust—the nuclear holocaust—is to remember the last one. If the Jews were singled out then, in the next one we are all victims." For his enduring efforts to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive so that such a tragedy would not repeat itself ever again, Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. In a New York Times article on the event, James M. Markham quoted Egil Aarvik, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee: "Wiesel is a messenger to mankind…. His message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief … repeated and deepened through the works of a great author." Speaking of Wiesel's fiction, Albert H. Friedlander in Contemporary World Writers concluded: "Each new book by Wiesel is filled with the concern for humanity which earned him the Nobel Peace prize. Each book is a letter addressed both to humanity and God. When one understands this, one begins to understand Elie Wiesel and his message."
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