Elie Wiesel

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Elie Wiesel 1928-

(Full name Eliezer Wiesel) Romanian-born American novelist, memoirist, journalist, short story writer, essayist, nonfiction writer, children's writer, and playwright.

The following entry presents an overview of Wiesel's career through 2001. See also Elie Wiesel Criticism (Volume 3), and Volumes 5, 11.

A survivor of the Nazi concentration camps and the winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, Wiesel is one of the most acclaimed authors of Holocaust literature and an eloquent spokesperson for contemporary Judaism. Throughout his career he has delineated the horror of the concentration camps and has explored the apparent indifference of God, ultimately reaffirming his life and faith. His lyrical, impressionistic novels, written primarily in French, frequently juxtapose past and present to examine the effect of the Holocaust on Jews, both as individuals and as a people. Although Wiesel focuses strongly on the experience of Jews, his work also speaks for all persecuted people, and, by extension, for humanity itself.

Biographical Information

Wiesel was born in Sighet, Romania, a well-known center of Jewish cultural life in the region of Transylvania. His parents encouraged his interest in the Hebrew and Yiddish languages as well as in the teachings of the Hasidic masters and the traditions of the Torah, Talmud, and Kabbala. In the spring of 1944, Nazi forces deported Wiesel, then fifteen years old, and his family to the Birkenau concentration camp. Separated from his mother and sisters upon arrival, he was then sent with his father to Auschwitz. When Soviet troops neared the concentration camp in 1945, the inmates were forced to march to Buchenwald; Wiesel's father died of dysentery and starvation soon thereafter. Upon being liberated in April of that year, Wiesel learned that his mother and younger sister had perished in the gas chambers. His older sisters, however, had survived, and years later they and Wiesel were reunited. Following his release, Wiesel hoped to leave for the then-British state of Palestine, but immigration restrictions proved insurmountable, and he was placed on a train with other Jewish orphans bound for Belgium. The train was rerouted to France at the insistence of General Charles de Gaulle. Living at first in Normandy, Wiesel eventually moved to Paris, where he studied literature at the Sorbonne. He later became a journalist for the French-Jewish periodical Arche and was sent to cover the formation of the Israeli state. In 1952 he left Arche to work for Yediot Ahronot, a newspaper in Tel Aviv, Israel. Two years later he was assigned to interview Françcois Mauriac, the well-known Roman Catholic novelist and Nobel Laureate, who persuaded Wiesel to break his vow of silence concerning his concentration camp experience and to bear witness for those who had died. The resulting eight-hundred-page memoir, Un di velt hot geshvign (1956), was transformed over two years into the much shorter text of La Nuit (Night), which has become regarded as one of the most powerful works in Holocaust literature. In 1956 Wiesel traveled to New York City as Yediot Ahronot's United Nations correspondent and was struck by a taxicab. Compelled by his long convalescence to remain in the United States, Wiesel applied for and received U.S. citizenship when his French travel papers expired. In 1969 he married Marion Erster Rose, a fellow Holocaust survivor who is now the primary English translator of his works. With the success of his writings, Wiesel has emerged as an important moral voice on issues concerning religion, human rights, and the Middle East. He now serves as chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and is the Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities at Boston University.

Major Works

A powerful, moving account of his experiences at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Night expresses Wiesel's feelings of guilt as a Holocaust survivor and his anger at God for having allowed people to be destroyed despite their faithfulness to God's...

(The entire section is 101,797 words.)