Wiesel, Elie (zer)

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WIESEL, Elie (zer)

Nationality: American (originally Romanian: immigrated to the United States, 1956, granted U.S. citizenship, 1963). Born: Sighet, Transylvania, 30 September 1928. Education: Sorbonne University of Paris, 1948-51. Family: Married Marion Erster Rose in 1969; one son and one stepdaughter. Career: Worked at various times as foreign correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth, Tel-Aviv, L'Arche, Paris, and Jewish Daily Forward, New York, 1949-68. Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies, City College of the City University of New York, 1972-76. Since 1976 Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, and since 1988 university professor, Boston University. Distinguished visiting professor of literature and philosophy, Florida International University, Miami, 1982; Henry Luce Visiting Scholar in Humanities and Social Thought, Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, 1982-83. Chair, United States President's Commission on the Holocaust, 1979-80, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, 1980-86. Awards: Remembrance award, 1965; Jewish Heritage award for excellence in literature, 1966; Prix Medicis, 1969; French Academy Prix Bordin and Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial award, both in 1972; Jewish Book Council Frank and Ethel S. Cohen award, 1973; Prix Livre-International and state of Israel Jabotinsky medal, both in 1980; Prix des Bibliothecaires, 1981; United States Congressional Gold medal, 1984; International League for Human Rights humanitarian award, 1985; Nobel Peace prize, 1986; B'nai B'rith Profiles in Courage award, 1987; International Human Rights Law Group award, 1988; Human Rights Campaign Fund humanitarian award, 1989; Soka University award of highest honor, 1991; Ellis Island medal of honor and Council of Jewish Organizations Humanitarian of the Century, both in 1992; Golden Slipper humanitarian award and Interfaith Council on the Holocaust humanitarian award, both in 1994; National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, freedom award and Socio Honorario de la Sociedad Hebraica Argentina, both in 1995; American Academy of Achievement golden plate award, 1996; Clark University Fiat Lux award and Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Guardian of Zion prize, both in 1997. Approximately 95 honorary doctorates. Commander, Legion d'Honneur, 1984, elevated to Grand Officer, 1990. Agent: Georges Borchardt, 136 East 57th Street, New York, New York 10022, U.S.A. Address: University Professors, Boston University, 745 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

La Nuit, L'Aube, Le Jour. 1969; as Night, Dawn, The Accident:

Three Tales, 1972; as The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, The Accident, 1987.

L'Aube. 1960; as Dawn, 1961.

Le Jour. 1961; as The Accident, 1961.

La Ville de la chance. 1962; as The Town beyond the Wall, 1964.

Les Portes de la foret. 1964; as The Gates of the Forest, 1966.

Le Chant des morts. 1966; as Legends of Our Time, 1968.

Le Mendiant de Jerusalem. 1968; as A Beggar in Jerusalem, 1970.

Le Serment de Kolvillag. 1973; as The Oath, 1973.

Le Testament d'un poete juif assassine. 1980; as The Testament, 1981.

The Golem: The Story of a Legend As Told by Elie Wiesel. 1983.

Le Cinquieme fils. 1983; as The Fifth Son, 1985.

L'Oublie. 1989; as The Forgotten, 1992.

Les Juges. 1999.

Plays

Zalmen; ou, la Folie de Dieu. 1966; as Zalmen; or, The Madness of God, 1968.

Ani Maamin: A Song Lost and Found Again, music by Darius Milhaud. 1974.

Le Proces de Shamgorod tel qu'il se deroula le 25 fevrier 1649: Piece en trois actes. 1979; as The Trial of God (As It Was Held on February 25, 1649, in Shamgorod): A Play in Three Acts, 1979.

The Haggadah, music by Elizabeth Swados. 1982.

Memoirs

Un di velt hot geshvign [And the World Has Remained Silent]. 1956; as La Nuit, 1958; as Night, 1958.

Tous les fleuves vont a la mer: Memoires. 1994; as All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs, 1995.

Et la mer n'est pas remplie: Memoires, 2. 1996; as And the Sea Is Never Full: Memoirs, 1969-, 1999.

Other

Entre deux soleils. 1965; as One Generation After, 1965.

The Jews of Silence: A Personal Report on Soviet Jewry (originally published in Hebrew as a series of articles for newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth ). 1966.

Celebration Hassidique: Portraits et legendes. 1972; as Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters, 1972.

Celebration Biblique: Portraits et legendes. 1975; as Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends, 1976.

Un Juif aujourd'hui: Recits, essais, dialogues. 1977; as A Jew Today, 1978.

Four Hasidic Masters and Their Struggle against Melancholy. 1978.

Images from the Bible, illustrated with paintings by Shalom of Safed. 1980.

Five Biblical Portraits. 1981.

Somewhere a Master. 1982; as Somewhere a Master: Further Tales of the Hasidic Masters, 1984.

Paroles d'etranger. 1982.

Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel, edited by Irving Abrahamson (selections; 3 vols.). 1985.

Signes d'exode: Essais, histoires, dialogues. 1985.

Job ou Dieu dans la tempete. 1986.

Le Crepuscule au loin. 1987; as Twilight, 1988.

The Six Days of Destruction, with Albert H. Friedlander. 1989.

Mal et l'exil. 1988; as Evil and Exile, with Philippe-Michael de Saint-Cheron. 1990.

From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences. 1990.

A Passover Haggadah, illustrated by Mark Podwal. 1993.

Monsieur Chouchani: L'Enigme d'un Maitre du XX Siecle: Entretiens avec Elie Wiesel, suivis d'une enquete, with Salomon Malka. 1994.

Memoire a deux voix, with Francois Mitterrand. 1995; as Memoir in Two Voices, 1996.

Ethics and Memory. 1997.

Celebration prophetique: Portraits et legendes. 1998.

King Solomon and His Magic Ring (for children). 1999.

*

Bibliography:

Elie Wiesel: A Bibliography by Molly Abramowitz, 1974.

Critical Studies:

Elie Wiesel: A Small Measure of Victory by Gene Koppel and Henry Kaufmann, 1974; Conversations with Elie Wiesel, 1976, and Responses to Elie Wiesel, 1978, both by Harry J. Cargas; Confronting the Holocaust: The Impact of Elie Wiesel, edited by Alvin Rosenfeld and Irving Greenberg, 1978; A Consuming Fire: Encounters with Elie Wiesel and the Holocaust by John Roth, 1979; Elie Wiesel by Ted L. Estess, 1980; Legacy of Night: The Literary Universe of Elie Wiesel by Ellen Fine, 1982; Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity by Robert McAfee Brown, 1983; Elie Wiesel: A Challenge to Theology by Graham B. Walker, 1988; Elie Wiesel: Between Memory and Hope, edited by Carol Rittner, 1990; Elie Wiesel: God, the Holocaust, and the Children of Israel by Michael Berenbaum, 1994; Elie Wiesel's Secretive Texts by Colin Davis, 1994; Elie Wiesel: Bearing Witness by Michael Pariser, 1994; Silence in the Novels of Elie Wiesel by Simon P. Sibleman, 1995; Celebrating Elie Wiesel: Stories, Essays, Reflections, edited by Alan Rosen, 1998; Elie Wiesel and the Politics of Moral Leadership by Mark Chmiel, 2001; The Worlds of Elie Wiesel: An Overview of His Career and His Major Themes by Jack Kolbert, 2001; Elie Wiesel's Night, edited by Harold Bloom, 2001.

* * *

After World War II, because many publishers were reluctant to publish Holocaust memoirs, it was difficult for Holocaust survivors to confront the world as witnesses to their suffering. New York trade publishers and their counterparts throughout the world felt that the subject was too depressing to be commercially viable. Even such luminous authors as Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi had difficulty finding publishers. By becoming best-selling authors, however, they won the right to be internationally recognized Holocaust witnesses, both for themselves and for other Holocaust authors who followed them.

Wiesel's citation for the Nobel Prize for Peace reads, "Wiesel is a messenger to mankind. His message is one of peace and atonement and human dignity. The message is in the form of a testimony, repeated and deepened through the works of a great author." In his book All Rivers Run to the Sea (1995), Wiesel openly admits that, when he was at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, he never expected his Holocaust experience to turn him into such a messenger:

Was it the will to testify—and therefore the need to survive—that helped pull me through? Did I survive in order to combat forgetting? I must confess that at the time such questions did not occur to me. I did not feel invested with any mission. On the contrary, I was convinced that my time would come and that my memories would die with me. When I heard fellow inmates making plans for "afterward," I thought it was no concern of mine. I repeat: It is not that I wanted to die, just that I knew I would not survive, first of all because I was convinced the Germans would keep their promise and kill us all, down to the last Jew, if necessary in the final hour before their defeat. And also because I knew that beyond a certain point I would be incapable of bearing the hunger and the pain.

Ruth Klüger similarly mentions in her memoir Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered (1992) that survival in the concentration camps was as improbable as winning the lottery. Bearing witness, therefore, was not likely to be the first thing on the inmates' minds.

Nonetheless, Wiesel forcefully describes the need to bear witness for those internees who survived the concentration camps. As a witness and a messenger, Wiesel laments the defensive amnesia that prevented many Jews from taking flight from the Nazis prior to their internments in concentration camps and seeks to prevent new forms of amnesia from taking root. Wiesel recalls how his non-Jewish housekeeper wanted to save the entire Wiesel family:

Maria—our old housekeeper, wonderful Maria who had worked for us since I was born—begged us to follow her to her home. She offered us her cabin in a remote hamlet. There would be room for all six of us and Grandma Nissel as well. Seven in one cabin? Yes, she swore it, as Christ was her witness. She would take care of us, she would handle everything. We said no politely but firmly. We did so because we still didn't know what was in store for us.

Wiesel celebrates Maria's unselfish offer but grieves that there were not more Christians like her:

Dear Maria. If other Christians had acted like her, the trains rolling toward the unknown would have been less crowded. If priests and pastors had raised their voices, if the Vatican had broken its silence, the enemy's hands would not have been so free. But most of our compatriots thought only of themselves. Barely was a Jewish house emptied of its inhabitants, than they descended like vultures on the abandoned possessions, breaking into closets and drawers, stealing bed-sheets and clothing, smashing things, looting. For them it was a party, a treasure hunt. They were not like our Maria.

He thereby gives credence to the need for the survivor to act as a witness-messenger by mentioning that even small numbers of opponents can lessen the monstrosity of a crisis like the Holocaust.

In his essay "Why I Write" Wiesel states, "Why I write? To wrench these victims from oblivion. To help the dead vanquish death." This is similar to the Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's statement "A writer must tell society what he has seen." Wiesel's intellectual roots are not only in Hasidism and Jewish mysticism but also in the European existentialism of such authors as Camus and Dostoyevsky. His angry exhortations against God in Night are particularly reminiscent of Dostoyevsky, who unleashes angry laments and accusations upon God but who also acknowledges that he cannot live without him. Wiesel explains his religious feelings by saying, "I had seen too much suffering to break with the past and reject the heritage of those who had suffered."

In his works Wiesel emphasizes the meaning the telling of the story has had for him after liberation. Survivors attempting to chronicle the Holocaust experience a conflict between the internal pressure to express themselves and the psychological barriers of reliving traumatic experiences. The courageous act of memoir and novel writing is examined by Andrea Reiter in her study of Holocaust literature, Auf dass sie entsteigen der Dunkelheit: Die literarische Bewältigung von KZ Erfahrung (1995). According to Reiter, the unique thing about these texts is the attempt to portray a life-threatening personal experience and to attribute meaning to this traumatic experience in such a way that the requisites for a satisfactory continuation of life can be guaranteed.

Wiesel's memoirs and novels of dehumanization and subsequent rehumanization under impossible circumstances also can have a beneficial impact upon their readership. His works have the potential of instilling in their readers the power of reflection, of self-determination, and of noncooperation with evil, which is the only true antidote to the principle of Auschwitz. Wiesel has revealed how anti-Semitic persecution threatens the very fabric of civilization, and in so doing he and a number of other Holocaust authors have redrawn the map of civilization itself to make it more just and more humane.

—Peter R. Erspamer

See the essays on The Accident, Dawn, The Forgotten, The Gates of the Forest, Night, One Generation After, and The Town beyond the Wall.

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