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for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)


Rumanian-born American writer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1986. Basis for Wiesel's work was his own experiences and personal testament of the destruction of Jews during World War II. A survivor of the horrors of the Holocaust, Wiesel was considered "a messenger to mankind... The message is in the form of a testimony, repeated and deepended through the works of  a great author." (in the Nobel Peace citation) Central themes in Wiesel's fiction, memoirs, and essays are the struggle against evil, "man's inhumanity toward man", and silence versus verboseness.

"How can one work for the living without by that very act betraying those who are absent? The question remains open, and no new fact can change it. Of course, the mystery of good is no less disturbing than the mystery of evil. But one does not cancel out the other. Man alone is capable of uniting them by remembering." (in A Beggar in Jerusalem, 1968)

Elie Wiesel was born in Sighet, Romania. "Sighet was a typical shtetl, a sanctuary for Jews," Wiesel once said. It was also center for Hasidic Jewish learning. Wiesel spent a happy childhood. He learned Yiddish from his mother and father, and studied biblical Hebrew in school. In 1944 all Jews from the town were moved to Auschwitz, where his mother and younger sister were killed. While in Auschwitz, Wiesel's inmate number, "A-7713", was tattooed onto his left arm. He was sent to Buchenwald, where his father was died from dysentry, starvation, and exhaustion shortly before Buchenwald's liberation. Three children from the family survived, Wiesel was one of them. At the time when he was liberated by the Americans, Wiesel was 16. When General Patton's Third Army came to Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, he recalled, "Our first act as  free men was to throw ourselves onto the  provisions. We thought only for that. Not of revenge, not our  families. Nothing but  bread." (The Era of the Witness by Annette Wieviorka, 2006, p. 35) Three days later he came ill with food poisoning.

After the war Wiesel settled in France, and studied at Sorbonne literature, psychology, and philosophy. His faith in God was shattered but during the following years he found again Jewish traditions. From 1949 he started to write for the Franco-Jewish newspaper L'Arche. In 1952 he became a reporter for the Tel Aviv newspaper Yediot Ahronot. In 1956 he was sent to New York to cover the United Nations, and seven years later he was naturalized. In 1969 Wiesel married Marion Erster Rose, a survivor of the German concentration camps. They lost their life's savings in the Bernie Madoff fraud.

In his new home country, which he shared with France and Israel, Wiesel gave thousands of lectures at college campuses. He taught at City College of New York and at Boston University, where he was Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities and from 1988 professor of philosophy. In 1992 Wiesel was invited by presidents Izetbegovic of Bosnia and Milosevic of Serbia, to observe the war ravaged cities. Wiesel's honors include Congressional Medal of Achievement he received from President Ronald Reagan in 1984. He received honorary doctorates from dozens of universities, and he was Commander of the French Legion of Honor.

Although Wiesel yearned to be a writer after the war, he could not gather the courage to recount what he had witnessed in the concentration camps. He once asked, "How can we imagine what is beyond imagination... How can we retell what escapes language?" Wiesel wrote a romantic spy novel under the pen name Elisha Carmeli and travelled in India. In France he was encouraged by the Nobel laureate François Mauriac to write about his experiences. This resulted in 1956 to the publication of Wiesel's first book, an 800-page memoir And the World Remained Silent, written originally in Yiddish. "I knew the story had to be told," Wiesel said. "Not to transmit an experience is to betray it." ('Why I Write,' in Confronting the Holocaust: The Impact of Elie Wiesel, edited by Alvin H. Rosenfeld and Irving Greenberg, 1978, p. 201)

Mauriac assisted Wiesel in editing and translating La Nuit (Night) and wrote its foreword.  Published by Les Éditions de Minuit, this semi-autobiographical story appeared two years later. Wiesel sent Mauriac a manuscript copy of the book, and  later said:  "I owe him much.... That I should say what I had to say, that my voice be heard, was as important to him as it was to me." (Elie Wiesel: A Religious Biography by Frederick L. Downing, 2008, p. 103.)

La Nuit, which had been rejected by all major publishers around the world, became an international best-seller. Even Les Éditions de Minuit had doubted its success – at first, the book sold slowly.  In the U.S., Arthur Wang purchased Night in 1959 and published it a year later.

In L'aube (1960, Dawn) Wiesel told of a survivor of the Nazi terror, who seeks to kill the enemies of the nascent Jewish state of Israel. Le Jour (1961, The Accident) was about another survivor who must deal with the guilt at staying alive while his family had perished at Auschwitz. The book formed a trilogy with Night and Dawn. A version of the trilogy, La Nuit, L'Aube, Le Jour came out in 1972. The daily cycle for the three works suggested hope, but actually the movement from darkness to light is not straightforwad. In Dawn the victim turns into a killer.

In his books Wiesel drew on his early theological training and used the Hasidic tradition. One of the central conflicts in the novels, the doubt and belief in God, is embodied in the enigmatic character of Moshe the Madman. God's silence in front of suffering and the despair and hope of humanity is a recurrent theme. In the second part of his memoirs, And the Sea Is Never Full (1999), Wiesel wrote: "The silence of Birkenau is a silence unlike any other. It contains the screams, the strangled prayers of thousands of human beings condemned to vanish into the darkness of nameless, endless ashes. Human silence at the core of inhumanity. Deadly silence at the core of death. Eternal silence under a moribund sky."

Most of Wiesel's novels take place either before or after the events of the Holocaust. "When I see that it becomes tolerable, I don't speak about it. That's why I have written so little about the Holocaust." Wiesel wrote to testify, and to justify his own survival. La Ville de la chance (1962, The Town beyond the Wall) deals with the silence of non-Jewish in front of the Holocaust. Le Mendiant de Jerusalem (1968, Beggar of Jerusalem) is about the Six-Day War. Le Serment de Kolvillàg (1973, The Oath) was about a small town somewhere in the Carpathian Mountais, which only exists in the memory of its last survivor, Azriel. His burden is to know the story when a Christian boy disappeared and Jews were accused of ritual murder. Moshe, a mystic, chooses assume the guilt and the community takes the oath: whoever would survive never speak of the town's last days and nights. "In the final stage of every equation, of every encounter, the key is responsibility. Whoever says "I" creates the "you." Such is the trap of every conscience. The "I" signifies both solitude and rejection of solitude. Words name things and then replace them. Whoever says tomorrow, denies it. Tomorrow exists only for him who does not seek it. And yesterday? Yesterday is Kolvillàg: a name to forget, a word already forgotten." Le Cinquième fils (1983, The Fifth Son) is an exploration of good and evil. The narrator is the stepchild of a survivor of the Holocaust, Reuven. He goes after an SS officer, who had murdered Reuven's son. Le Crépuscule, au loin (1987) asks the question, were the cultured henchmen of the Nazi era truly sane people, and L'Oublié (1989, The Forgotten) is a story of a journalist, who explores his own and his family's past. The central characters are Elhanon Rosenbaum, a New York psychotherapist and survivor of the Holocaust, who begins to suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and his son, Malkiell, who travels to Romania, where his father had fought with the partisans.

Wiesel other works include Célébration hasidique (1972), a collection of Hasidic tales, Célébration biblique (1975, Messenger of God), a collection of biblical stories, Silences et mémoire d'hommes (1989, Sages and Dreamers), and anthologies of varied essays dealing with collective and individual quilt, post-World-War-II Germany, the Klaus Barbie trial in France, the evils of racism, and the Jewish faith. When he traveled to the Ukraine in 1979 with a delegation of the President's Commission on the Holocaust, he condemned the distortion of historical truth upon seeing the memorial at Babi Yar that the Soviets had erected: there was no mention of victims who were Jewish.

A three volume collection of Wiesel's essays, entitled Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel (edited by Irving Abrahamson) was published in 1985. The Jews of Silence (1966) and The Testament (1981) dealt with the oppression of Jews under Communism. Memoir in Two Voices (1966) was based on conversations between President Francois Mitterrand and the author. In the book Mitterand defended his collaboration with the anti-Semitic Vichy regime during World War II. From the 1990s Wiesel devoted much of his time to the publication of his own memoirs and to organizing and participating in a number of prestigious international conferences and events. The first part of his memoirs, All Rivers Run in to the Sea, came out in 1995, and the second, And the Sea is Never Full, in 1999. Many of his books were translated into English by his wife. Wiesel died on July 2, 2016, at his home in Manhattan.

For further reading: Elie Wiesel: A Religious Biography by Frederick L. Downing (2008); Encyclopedia of World Literatuire in the 20th Century,  Vol. 4, ed.  Steven R. Serafin (1999); Elie Wiesel: A Voice for Humanity by Ellen Norman Stern (1996); Silence in the Novels of Elie Wiesel by S.P.. Sibelman (1995); Elie Wiesel by P.M. de Saint Cheron (1994); Elie Wiesel's Secretive Texts by C. Davis (1994); Elie Wiesel by Caroline Lazo (1994); In Dialogue and Dilemma with Elie Wiesel by David Patterson (1991); Elie Wiesel: Between Memory and Hope, ed. C. Rittner (1990); Elie Wiesel - Qui êtes-vous? by B.-F. Cohen (1987); Elie Wiesel: Messanger to All Humanity by R. M. Brown (1983): Elie Wiesel: Witness for Life by E.N. Stern (1982); Elie Wiesel by Ted L. Estess (1980); The Vision of the Void by M. Berenbaum (1979); Confronting the Holocaust, ed. by A.H. Rosenfeld and I. Greenberg (1978); The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination by L. Langer (1975) - See also: Nelly Sachs

Selected works:

  • Un di Velt Hot Geshvign, 1956
  • La Nuit, 1958 - Night (translated by Stella Rodway, 1960) - Yö (suom. Heikki Kaskimies, 1991)
  • L'Aube, 1960 - Dawn (translated by Frances Frenaye, 1961) - Sarastus (suom. Heikki Kaskimies, 1992)
  • Le Jour, 1961 - The Accident (translated by Anne Borchardt, 1962) / Day (US title, 2006)
  • La Ville de la chance, 1962 - The Town Beyond the Wall (translated by Stephen Becker, 1964)
  • Les Portes de la forêt, 1964 - The Gates of the Forest (translated by Frances Frenaye, 1966)
  • Le chant des morts: nouvelles, 1966 - Legends of Our Time (tr. 1968)
  • Les Juifs du silence, témoignage, 1966 - The Jews of Silence (translated by Neal Kozodoy, 1966) - Hiljaisuuden juutalaiset (suom. Juhani Kaakinen, 1975)
  • Zalmen ou la folie de Dieu, 1968 - Zalmen; or, The Madness of God (translated by Nathan Edelman, 1975)
  • Le Mendiant de Jérusalem, 1968 - A Beggar in Jerusalem (translated by Lily Edelman and the author, 1970)
  • Entre deux soleils, 1970 - One Generation After (translated by Lily Edelman and the author, 1970)
  • Célébration hassidique, 1972 - Souls on Fire (translated by Marion Wiesel, 1972)
  • Night, Dawn, The Accident: Three Tales, 1972
  • Le Serment de Kolvillàg, 1973 - The Oath (translated by Marion Wiesel, 1973)
  • Ani Maamin, 1973 (music by Darius Milhaud)
  • Célébration biblique, 1975 - Messengers of God (translated by Marion Wiesel, 1976)
  • Un Juif, aujourd'hui. Récits, essais, dialogues, 1977 - A Jew Today (translated by Marion Wiesel, 1979)
  • Dimensions of the Holocaust, 1977
  • Four Hasidic Masters and Their Struggle Against Melancholy, 1978 (foreword Theodore M. Hesburgh)
  • Le procès de Shamgorod, 1979 - The Trial of God (translated by Marion Wiesel, 1979)
  • Images from the Bible: The Paintings of Shalom of Safed, 1980 (introduction by Daniel Doron)
  • Le Testament d'un poète juif assassiné, 1980 - The Testament (translated by   Marion Wiesel, 1981)
  • Inside a library and, The stranger in the Bible, 1980
  • Contre la mélancolie, 1981 - Somewhere a Master (translated by Marion Wiesel, 1982)
  • The Haggadah, 1982 (cantata)
  • Paroles d'étranger, 1980
  • Five Biblical Portraits, 1982
  • Le cinquième fils, 1983 - The Fifth Son (translated by Marion Wiesel, 1985) - Viides poika (suom. Heikki Kaskimies, 1989)
  • Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel, 1985 (3 vols., ed. Irving Abrahamson)
  • Signes d'exode: Essais, histoires, dialogues, 1985
  • Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel, 1985 (3 vols., edited by Irving Abrahamson)
  • Night, Dawn, Day , 1985
  • Job ou Dieu dans la tempête, 1986 (dialogue & commentary with Josy Eisenberg)
  • The Nobel Address, 1986
  • A Song for Hope, 1987 (music by David Diamond)
  • Le crépuscule, au loin, 1987 - Twilight (translated by Marion Wiesel, 1988) - Palavat ikkunat (suom. Heikki Kaskimies, 1988)
  • L'oublié, 1989 - The Forgotten (tr.  Stephen Becke, 1992) - Tuuleen tatuoitu (suom. Heikki Kaskimies, 1990)
  • Le mal et l'exil: 10 ans après, 1988 - Evil and Exile (translated by Jon Rothschild, 1990)
  • The Six Days of Destruction: Meditations Towards Hope, 1988 (with Albert H. Friedlander)
  • Silences et mémoire d'hommes, 1989
  • A Journey of Faith, 1989 (with John Cardinal O'Connor)
  • From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences, 1990
  • In Dialog and Dilemma with Elie Wiesel, 1991
  • Sages and Dreamers: Biblical, Talmudic, and Hasidic Portraits and Legends, 1991
  • Célébration talmudique: Portraits et légendes, 1991
  • Nine and a Half Mystics / Herbert Weiner, 1992 (foreword by Elie Wiesel)
  • A Passover Haggada, 1993 (author of commentaries)
  • Tous les fleuves vont à la mer, 1994 - All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs (tr. 1995)
  • Mémoire à deux voix, 1996 - Memoir in Two Voices (conversations between the French leader Francois Mitterand and E.W.; tr. Richard Seaver and Timothy Bent, 1966)
  • Et la mer n'est pas remplie, 1996 - And the Sea is Never Full (translated by   Marion Wiesel, 1999)
  • Children of Job, 1997 (with Alan L. Berger)
  • La Haggadah de Pâque = Hagadah shel Pesaḥ, 1997 (with Mark Podwal)
  • Ethics and Memory, 1997
  • Célébration prophétique: Portraits et légendes, 1998
  • Celebrating Elie Wiesel: Stories, Essays, Reflections, 1998 (ed. E.W. et al)
  • Le Golem. Légende d'une légende, 1998 - The Golem: The Story of a Legend  (illustrated by Mark Podwal; translated by Anne Borchardt)
  • Les juges, 1999 - The Judges (tr. 2002)
  • Le roi Salomon et sa bague magique, 2000 - King Solomon and His Magic Ring (paintings by Mark Podwal, tr. 1999)
  • D'où viens-tu?, 2001
  • After the Darkness, 2002 (translated by Benjamin Moser)
  • Le temps des déracinés, 2003 - The Time of the Uprooted: A Novel (translated by David Hapgood, 2005)
  • Et où vas-tu?, 2004
  • Un désir fou de danser, 2006 - A Mad Desire to Dance, 2009 (translated by Catherine Temerson, 2009)
  • Le cas Sonderberg, 2008 - The Sonderberg Case (translated by Catherine Temerson, 2010)
  • Rashi: ébauche d'un portrait, 2010 - Rashi: A Portrait (tr. Catherine Temerson, 2009)
  • Otage, 2010 - Hostage (translated by Catherine Temerson, 2012)
  • Cœur ouvert, 2011 - Open Heart (translated by Marion Wiesel, 2012)

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