Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel dies aged 87

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Correction — January 24, 2024
The second paragraph of the article suggested Wiesel only learned of the deaths of his family members upon leaving Auschwitz. This is not supported by the sources and only partially correct. In fact, Wiesel learned of his father's death while still at Auschwitz. Wiesel also had two sisters who survived the war (source). These have been corrected in the article as now written.
File photo of the Dalai Lama, George W. Bush, and Wiesel in 2007.
Image: Chris Greenburg.

On Saturday, acclaimed writer Elie Wiesel died in New York City at age 87, his family said, following a lengthy illness.

Wiesel was born 1928 in the town of Sighet in Romania. Twelve years later, in 1940, his town was included in an annexation by Hungary. In 1944, Wiesel, fifteen at the time, and his family, along with the entire Jewish population in Sighet, were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. He was freed in 1945. His mother and one of his three sisters died in death chambers, and his father from disease and starvation. Elie Weisel, on the advice of an older Jew, had lied to the Nazis about his age, as an eighteen-year-old would be useful to them as a worker.

Ten years after his freedom, he wrote the famous book Night — written in Yiddish, first published in French translation — detailing his experience in the camp and his regret of survival. His book sold only about a thousand copies in the first year it was published, however today the book has been translated into 30 different languages with more than ten million copies sold. In 2006 TV personality Oprah Winfrey added it to her book club, prompting the swift selling of three million copies.

Wiesel wrote around 60 books, two plays, and two cantatas.

Wiesel first started a career in journalism in 1948 for the French newspaper L'Arche, which sent him as a correspondent to Israel. He also became a Paris correspondent for Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot and he was encouraged by an interviewee to write about his experience in the camp.

Photo of Auschwitz concentration camp.
Image: Alexandre Lepage.

In 1972, Wiesel was a professor of Judaic Studies at the City College of New York for four years until he became a professor of Humanities at Boston University, where he remained.

Wiesel then became an activist and advocate during many conflicts, such as the Bosnian genocide of the 1990s. He advised the actions of several U.S. presidents, including then-President Ronald Reagan. During his acceptance of the Congressional Gold Medal, he advised Reagan not to visit a Bitburg military cemetery containing Waffen-SS graves. Reagan, however, continued with his trip, which created much controversy. Former President Jimmy Carter also appointed Wiesel as Chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust.

In 1986, Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize as an advocate for racial and religious groups and a spiritual leader.

Wiesel also helped in the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He was the chairman of the organization that collected funds from other survivors of the Holocaust to create the museum.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called him "a ray of light and an example of humanity that believes in the goodness of man". U.S. President Barack Obama called him a "living memorial". French President Francois Hollande called him a "grand humanist" and a "tireless defender of peace".

He is survived by his wife Marion and his son Elisha.