Elie Wiesel Wiesel, Elie (Vol. 165) - Essay


(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 law. These emotions also inform Wiesel's two subsequent novels, L'aube (1961; Dawn) and Le jour (1961; The Accident), which revolve around survivors who must find some meaning in the Holocaust before they can regain their faith in God and humanity. In Dawn a young survivor becomes a terrorist in the war to free Palestine from British rule yet discovers that he has forsaken his religious ideals in the process. The Accident is about an Israeli foreign correspondent who, after being struck by a taxicab, gradually realizes that his subconscious guilt as a concentration camp survivor has led him to seek his own death. Wiesel's later novels elaborate on the theme of self-discovery and examine such moral issues as the choice between death and life, indifference and responsibility, and suffering and love. In La ville de la chance (1962; The Town beyond the Wall) a Holocaust survivor returns to Hungary to confront his former Nazi guard, only to discover that revenge and madness are merely denials of his own moral responsibility. The Jewish survivor of Les portes de la foret (1964; The Gates of the Forest) changes his perception of his relationship to the world when he realizes that he has imprisoned himself in his pain and memories. The protagonist ultimately accepts that suffering must lead to an embracement of others, not a rejection of life. Le cinquième fils (1983; The Fifth Son) examines the impact of the Holocaust on the children of survivors, telling the story of a young Jewish American who travels to Europe with plans to kill his father's persecutor. He relents in his pursuit, however, when he is faced with the man's incomprehension of his deeds. Wiesel further explores the themes of guilt, innocence, and history in Le juges (1999; The Judges) a novel set in the confines of a Connecticut house. Five airline passengers are stranded in the house during a snowstorm when their flight from New York to Tel Aviv is grounded. The passengers are at the mercy of a sadistic host who calls himself the Judge, and who decrees that one of them will die by morning. As the night progresses the passengers examine their lives and ambitions, as Wiesel ponders philosophical questions about the nature of good and evil. Wiesel's mythopoeic plays Zalmen; ou la folie de Dieu (1966; Zalmen, or the Madness of God) and Le procès de Shamgorod (1979; The Trial of God) address the notion of a cruel and unjust God and weigh human responsibility for God's judgments.

In the mid-1960s Wiesel extended his commitment to speak for the persecuted by focusing his nonfiction works on contemporary Jewish victims of oppression. Le Juifs du silence (1966; The Jews of Silence) is both an eyewitness report of Jewish persecution in the former Soviet Union and a plea for global Jewish solidarity. Wiesel further examines the political and moral effects of apathy upon today's oppressed people in the stories and autobiographical fragments collected in Le chant des morts (1966; Legends of Our Time) and Entre deux soleils (1970; One Generation after). Although Wiesel states in One Generation after that the world has learned nothing from the Holocaust, he also emphasizes the need for the modern Jew to impose a meaning on these events and draw comfort from their nameless, faceless pain. This idea is again explored in Un juif aujourd'hui (1977; A Jew Today), a collection of autobiographical sketches, essays, and dialogues in which Wiesel expresses shame for the past and a cautious hope for the future. Wiesel has additionally addressed the affirmative aspects of Judaism through his humanistic examinations of Jewish biblical figures and legends. Beginning with Celebration hassidique: Portraits et legendes (1972; Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters), Wiesel expounds on his belief that Hasidism's modern relevance lies in its example of how to live joyfully in an incomprehensible and absurd universe. Ensuing collections of Wiesel's biblical portraits, based on lectures delivered at various international universities, include Four Hasidic Masters and Their Struggle against Melancholy (1978), Five Biblical Portraits (1981), and Contre la mélancholie (1982; Somewhere a Master). In recent years, he has published two additional volumes of memoirs—Tous les fleuves vont a la mer (1994; All Rivers Run to the Sea) and And the Sea Is Never Full 1969- (1999).

Critical Reception

Wiesel's works have often generated disagreement among critics. While some reviewers have considered his plots and characters to be mere vehicles for his moral, religious, and philosophical concerns, many have praised his sensitive insight into human behavior, his candor, and his ability to objectively examine the Holocaust and its effect upon modern Jewish thought. Commentators have explored Wiesel's dominant thematic concerns, such as man's inhumanity to man, the importance of memory and faith, and the effect of the Holocaust on the survivors as well as the next generation of Jews. Reviewers have frequently lauded Wiesel's examinations of such complex themes as life, death, guilt, and forgiveness in his fiction. Commenting on The Judges, Jonathan Rosen has stated “Evil is a real presence in Mr. Wiesel's novel, though he seems most interested in the response to evil, and it is this that gives his book its metaphysical tension.” Although some reviewers have faulted Wiesel's novels—including The Judges—for their inattention to minor details, numerous critics have praised the underlying questions and larger themes present in Wiesel's writing. Though his detractors have argued that much of his writing—especially works such as Dawn—are more polemic than artistic, a majority of commentators have agreed that Wiesel's fiction has a riveting emotional core. Praise for his memoir Night has been almost universal from both critics and readers alike. Despite this range of critical opinion, Wiesel's fiction has been widely regarded as among the most passionate and powerful of all Holocaust writing.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

*Un di velt hot geshvign [abridged and translated as La Nuit and Night] (memoirs) 1956

L'aube [Dawn] (novel) 1961

Le jour [The Accident] (novel) 1961

La ville de la chance [The Town beyond the Wall] (novel) 1962

Les portes de la foret [The Gates of the Forest] (novel) 1964

Le juifs du silence [The Jews of Silence: A Personal Report on Soviet Jewry] (nonfiction) 1966

Le chant des mortes [Legends of Our Time] (nonfiction) 1966

Zalman; ou, la folie de Dieu [Zalman; or, the Madness of...

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Itzhak Ivry (review date 17 December 1960)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ivry, Itzhak. “Memory of Torment.” Saturday Review 43, no. 51 (17 December 1960): 23-4.

[In the following review of Night, Ivry provides a brief plot synopsis and asserts that the memoir is a powerful and important recounting of life in the Nazi concentration camps. He also reviews Herbert Agar's book The Saving Remnant.]

Children's shoes are a touching sight when piled up in a concentration camp storehouse, and a child's reaction to the twentieth century's greatest calamity is especially poignant. This may be why The Diary of Anne Frank emerged as one of the most unforgettable documents of the period. A child's response to life in the...

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Richard M. Elman (review date 15 September 1964)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Elman, Richard M. “Parable of Faith.” New Republic 151, no. 10 (15 September 1964): 32, 34.

[In the following review, Elman praises The Town beyond the Wall, calling it “an existential parable of faith.”]

Evil is human; weakness is human; indifference is not.

—Elie Wiesel

Even in his literary expression the Jew remains cosmopolitan. Despite the creation of a Jewish state, the reinvigoration of the Hebrew language, writers continue to express themselves as Jews in the various tongues of the Diaspora; and their imaginations seem forever fixed on a Europe that is in ashes. In...

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Walter Laqueur (review date 23 March 1967)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Laqueur, Walter. “People without a Country.” New York Review of Books 8, no. 5 (23 March 1967): 23-4.

[In the following review, Laqueur compliments The Jews of Silence as a moving account of Soviet Jewry in the mid-1960s.]

It is still widely believed that everything that happens in the Soviet Union is planned according to some overall theoretical blueprint. Reality is more complex; in their internal policies Soviet leaders have been so preoccupied with economic problems that they have hardly been able in recent decades to pause for reflection and re-examination of anything except the most urgent issues. This much, at any rate, they seem to have in...

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Michael J. Bandler (review date 21 November 1968)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bandler, Michael J. “Why Auschwitz? The Answer: Silence.” Christian Science Monitor (21 November 1968): 9.

[In the following review, Bandler praises Wiesel's courage, insight, and compassion in addressing the Holocaust and its aftermath, particularly in Legends of Our Time.]

In this era of good feelings between Jew and non-Jew—a period of forgiveness, reparations, and recognition of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state—it becomes easy to forget the events of 25 years ago in Central Europe. The memory of six million is sometimes invoked, but with it some doubt and uncertainty often lingers: did six million really go to their deaths, and if so, why did they...

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Michael Wood (review date 7 February 1974)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wood, Michael. “Victims of Survival.” New York Review of Books 21, no. 1 (7 February 1974): 10-12.

[In the following excerpt, Wood offers an unfavorable assessment of The Oath.]

Survival. The defensive myth of a long-persecuted people becomes an oblique apology to those who failed to survive, to those who got “lost.” Singer's woman who loses herself is really terrified of losing her child, since she loses everything else. A mother in Elie Wiesel's The Oath does lose a child in the camps, obeys an order to be separated from him and never sees him again. This the central, poignant moment in the book, the source of its anguish and its questions....

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Samuel H. Joseloff (essay date spring 1974)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Joseloff, Samuel H. “Link and Promise: The Works of Elie Wiesel.” Southern Humanities Review 8, no. 2 (spring 1974): 163-70.

[In the following essay, Joseloff traces Wiesel's literary development throughout his career.]

For whoever lives through a trial, or takes part in an event that weighs on man's destiny or frees him, is duty-bound to transmit what he has seen, felt and feared. The Jew has always been obsessed by this obligation. He has always known that to live an experience or create a vision, and not transform it into link and promise, is to turn it into a gift to death.

(“To a Young Jew of...

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Mary Jean Green (essay date summer 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Green, Mary Jean. “Witness to the Absurd: Elie Wiesel and the French Existentialists.” Renascence 29, no. 4 (summer 1977): 170-84.

[In the following essay, Green considers the influence of French existentialism—particularly the work of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre—on Wiesel's fiction.]

Elie Wiesel has gained a certain reputation in America as a “Jewish writer,” a survivor of the Holocaust and a teller of Hasidic tales. As the sales of his books in English translation far surpass those of the original French editions, the fact that Wiesel wrote his novels in French is in danger of being quietly forgotten. Yet, although Wiesel first came to...

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Ted L. Estess (essay date spring 1978)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Estess, Ted L. “Choosing Life: An Interpretation of Elie Wiesel's The Oath.Soundings 61, no. 1 (spring 1978): 67-86.

[In the following essay, Estess provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of The Oath, viewing the novel as Wiesel's most satisfying novel to date.]

In a recent lecture Elie Wiesel remarked that the task of the artist is “to ask questions. That is what he must do and all he can do. For he, too, has no answers.”1 Consonant with this artistic self-understanding, Wiesel's literature sets forth the fundamental questions of human existence in the starkest of terms. Life or death, hope or despair, love or hate,...

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Byron L. Sherwin (essay date October 1978)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sherwin, Byron L. “Jewish Messianism and Elie Wiesel.” Notre Dame English Journal 11, no. 1 (October 1978): 33-46.

[In the following essay, Sherwin discusses Wiesel as a Jewish author and examines his “utilization of the sources and themes which constitute classical Jewish Messianism.”]


There are three varieties of Jewish authors. One kind writes neither out of his Jewish experience nor out of his Judaism. This type of writer rejects what he is an sometimes will write anti-Semitically and with distinct Christian symbolism in order to flaunt his “liberation” from geneological ties. An...

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John K. Roth (essay date December 1979)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Roth, John K. “Images of God: Reflections from Elie Wiesel's Four Hasidic Masters and A Jew Today.Thought: A Review of Culture and Idea 54, no. 215 (December 1979): 419-23.

[In the following essay, Roth explores the images of God found in Four Hasidic Masters and A Jew Today.]

Elie Wiesel is a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz. He is also a storyteller struggling relentlessly with the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews. Author of nearly twenty books, Wiesel employs varied forms of prose and poetry, fact and fiction, to interrogate the Holocaust in ways that honor the victims and teach the living. Drawing extensively on Jewish legend and...

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Robert McAfee Brown (essay date 3-10 June 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Brown, Robert McAfee. “The Power of the Tale.” Christian Century 48, no. 20 (3-10 June 1981): 649-52.

[In the following essay, Brown suggests ways for readers to approach Wiesel's The Testament.]

If Elie Wiesel wanted to communicate through systematic reflection, he would write systematic reflections. He doesn't. He tells tales. And although the corpus of his writings includes three books of essays and an account of a visit to Russia along with all the novels, the retellings of biblical and Hasidic tales, the dialogues, the verse and the drama, it is story that is his major medium of communication.

The cruelest blow a reader could...

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Denis Diamond (essay date spring 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Diamond, Denis. “Elie Wiesel: Reconciling the Irreconcilable.” World Literature Today 57, no. 2 (spring 1983): 228-33.

[In the following essay, Diamond surveys the defining characteristics of Wiesel's body of work.]

Artists are praised when what they have created is described as their world. Elie Wiesel would defy anyone to write of “Wiesel's Auschwitz.” And yet, nobody has made that place more present than he, or has done so more relentlessly, more remorselessly, more persistently. That being the case, it becomes impossible to expect his work to do what he has said cannot be done: to concretize the mystery.


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Eli Pfefferkorn (essay date winter 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Pfefferkorn, Eli. “Elie Wiesel: The Inward Eyewitness in The Testament.Modern Language Studies 14, no. 1 (winter 1984): 3-10.

[In the following essay, Pfefferkorn underscores the role of verisimilitude in Wiesel's oeuvre.]

Among the various factors that shape Elie Wiesel's poetic vision, verisimilitude is probably one of the most decisive. Whether drawing on his own concentration camp experiences or on other witness accounts, or on historical documentation, Wiesel goes to great lengths to set the plots of his stories in realistic backgrounds. This faithfulness to historical veracity seems to emanate from the impulse to bear witness, which has...

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Marie M. Cedars (essay date fall 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cedars, Marie M. “Silence and Against Silence: The Two Voices of Elie Wiesel.” Cross Currents 36, no. 3 (fall 1986): 257-66.

[In the following essay, Cedars traces Wiesel's development as a writer and political activist.]

Against Silence epitomizes Elie Wiesel's obsession: to sensitize people to the injustices that afflict their contemporaries. Having suffered from the silence of others' indifference, he spends his life speaking out against inhumanity everywhere. Now his Nobel Peace Prize signals that people are listening. It gives him reason for hope. “It is not for prizes that one works,” he replied, when asked if the award would change him. To...

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Elie Wiesel, Robert Franciosi, and Brian Shaffer (interview date fall 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wiesel, Elie, Robert Franciosi, and Brian Shaffer. “An Interview with Elie Wiesel.” Contemporary Literature 28, no. 3 (fall 1987): 281-300.

[In the following interview, Wiesel discusses his literary philosophy, the role of history in his work, and the impact of Holocaust literature.]

The public and private worlds of Elie Wiesel seemed to come together as we talked in his Manhattan office. From the tenth floor we could hear sounds of heavy construction, of automobiles, of the noises that Wiesel says “characterize our generation.” In the midst of this Wiesel himself was a figure of calm with a voice that barely rose above the din.

It is...

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Stanley Moss (review date 10 July 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Moss, Stanley. “Adam and Cain in the Madhouse.” New York Times Book Review (10 July 1988): 12.

[In the following review, Moss offers a favorable assessment of Twilight.]

Among his books, Elie Wiesel has given us Dawn, Night and now Twilight. The day of the spirit does not necessarily follow the earth around the sun.

His novella Dawn has grown in importance. Among its messages, it warns us that we must never do what its central character, an 18-year-old Jewish soldier, does: he goes from being a victim to being an executioner. Night is early autobiography: the terrible telling and remembering of Mr....

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David L. Vanderwerken (essay date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Vanderwerken, David L. “Wiesel's Night as Anti-Bildungsroman.Modern Jewish Studies 7, no. 4 (1990): 57-63.

[In the following essay, Vanderwerken argues that Night is an example of the bildungsroman genre, reversed and “turned inside out.”]

One of our most familiar fictional forms is the story of a young person's initiation into adulthood. That the form remains rich, inexhaustible, and compelling can be confirmed by pointing to the success of The World According to Garp, for one. Although specifically coined to describe a certain tradition of German novel deriving from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister,...

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Joyce Lazarus (essay date November 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lazarus, Joyce. “Elie Wiesel's La Nuit and L'Oublié: In Pursuit of Silence.” Essays in French Literature, no. 28 (November 1991): 87-94.

[In the following essay, Lazarus underscores the role of silence as a predominant metaphor and structural device in Night and The Forgotten.]

One of the striking characteristics of the writings of Elie Wiesel is his ambivalent attitude toward language, and the predominant role of silence in his works. For Wiesel, despite his more than thirty books on this subject, the experience of the Holocaust is still inexpressible and beyond language. “Words have lost their innocence and their...

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John K. Roth (essay date spring 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Roth, John K. “From Night to Twilight: A Philosopher's Reading of Elie Wiesel.” Religion and Literature 24, no. 1 (spring 1992): 59-73.

[In the following essay, Roth delineates the major thematic concerns of Wiesel's oeuvre.]

Everything to do with Auschwitz must, in the end, lead into darkness.

—Elie Wiesel

Plato and Aristotle, Hume and Kant, Hegel and Kierkegaard, James, Camus, and Wittgenstein—these great masters of philosophy move me. Philosophically, however, no writer disturbs and provokes me more than one who claims he “never intended to be a philosopher.”1...

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David Booth (essay date summer 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Booth, David. “The Role of the Storyteller—Sholem Aleichem and Elie Wiesel.” Judaism 42, no. 167 (summer 1993): 298-312.

[In the following essay, Booth explores the changing of Jewish mythology, comparing the work of Sholem Aleichem and Wiesel.]

The Aggadah is a Garden
Of such childlike airy fancy.
And the young Talmudic scholar—
When his heart felt dry and dusty,
Musty from noisy squabbling
over the Halakhah, over
Quarrels on the plaguy egg
That a hen laid on a feast day
Or about some other question
Equally profound—the youngster
Fled for solace of the spirit
To the blossom filled Agaddah


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Simon P. Sibelman (essay date summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sibelman, Simon P. “Phylacteries as Metaphor in Elie Wiesel's Le Testament d'un poète juif assassiné.Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 18, no. 2 (summer 1994): 267-75.

[In the following essay, Sibelman argues that Wiesel's work is a search for and affirmation of his commitment to his Jewish heritage.]

The novels of the Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, were initially read as eloquent expressions of remembrance and witnessing to the massacred millions who perished in Hitler's inferno. Wiesel has himself stated, however, that his writing is an attempt to rediscover the boy he happened to be, the profoundly religious yeshiva boher...

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Joyce B. Lazarus (essay date fall 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lazarus, Joyce B. “Expanding Time: The Art of Elie Wiesel in The Gates of the Forest.Modern Language Studies 24, no. 4 (fall 1994): 39-46.

[In the following essay, Lazarus analyzes Wiesel's treatment of time in his novel The Gates of the Forest.]

Master teller of tales, witness testifying to the human condition as seen through the Jewish condition, Elie Wiesel writes with an urgency that summons his readers to respond. For Wiesel, the world has still learned nothing from Auschwitz; barbaric cruelty and oppression of humanity are evident everywhere. Using one of his favorite metaphors, Wiesel describes humanity as riding a train that is about to...

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Pierre L. Horn (review date summer 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Horn, Pierre L. Review of Tous les fleuves vont á la mer, by Elie Wiesel. World Literature Today 69, no. 3 (summer 1995): 553.

[In the following review, Horn offers a laudatory assessment of All Rivers Run to the Sea.]

Taking the title of his autobiography [All Rivers Run to the Sea] from Ecclesiastes, Elie Wiesel presents the important people and events of his life, beginning with his childhood and culminating in his 1969 marriage in Jerusalem under the watchful eye of his parents and little sister, all exterminated during the Holocaust. Born in the Carpathian town of Sighet, Wiesel through stories and remembrances tells of a family full of...

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James E. Young (review date 18 December 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Young, James E. “Parables of a Survivor.” New Leader 78, no. 10 (18 December 1995): 17-19.

[In the following review, Young maintains that All Rivers Run to the Sea is part spiritual memoir, part bildungsroman, and “a remarkably self-reflexive if not always self-revealing memoir.”]

How did Elie Wiesel, of all the thousands of Holocaust survivors, become a living icon of that catastrophe, and why? How deliberate was his ascension, how accidental? What has it meant for Wiesel to commit his life to memory of the Holocaust, only to reap a seemingly endless bounty of celebrity, adulation, and material rewards? All Rivers Run to the Sea,...

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Ora Avni (essay date 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Avni, Ora. “Beyond Psychoanalysis: Elie Wiesel's Night in Historical Perspective.” In Auschwitz and After: Race, Culture, and “the Jewish Question” in France, edited by Lawrence D. Kritzman, pp. 203-18. New York: Routledge, 1995.

[In the following essay, Avni addresses the impact of and reaction to Holocaust narratives by discussing the opening section of Wiesel's Night.]

Night is the story of a young boy's journey through hell, as he is taken first to a ghetto, and then to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. It is a story of survival and of death: survival of the young narrator himself, but death of the world as he knew it.1 It is...

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Carol Danks (essay date May-June 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Danks, Carol. “Using the Literature of Elie Wiesel and Selected Poetry to Teach the Holocaust in the Secondary School History Classroom.” Social Studies 87, no. 3 (May-June 1996): 101-05.

[In the following essay, Danks recommends Night as a tool to teach high school students about the Holocaust, contending that the work exposes students to such multiple realms as historical, geographical, and personal relations and development.]

“Our entry into the world of the Holocaust thus depends on who tells the tale—and how,” says Lawrence Langer in his Versions of Survival (Langer 1982, 5). Although Langer is specifically referring to survivor...

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Elie Wiesel and Tikkun (interview date July-August 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wiesel, Elie, and Tikkun. “An Interview with Elie Wiesel.” Tikkun 14, no. 4 (July-August 1999): 33-5.

[In the following interview, Wiesel discusses the political situation in Kosovo and the moral responsibilities of the United States in regional conflicts.]

Nobel Peace Prize winner and Boston University Professor Elie Wiesel has worked on behalf of oppressed people for much of his adult life. His more than forty books include A Beggar in Jerusalem, The Testament and The Fifth Son. The English translation of the second volume of his memoirs, Et la mer n'est pas remplie, will be published by Knopf in the fall of 1999....

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Alvin Rosenfeld (review date 13 December 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Rosenfeld, Alvin. “A Commitment to Memory.” New Leader 82, no. 15 (13 December 1999): 24-5.

[In the following review, Rosenfeld emphasizes the role of memory in And the Sea is Never Full.]

In this second installment [And the Sea is Never Full] of Elie Wiesel's memoirs, following All Rivers Run to the Sea (1995), memory extends beyond the personal to matters of history, politics, ethics, and religion. So 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.


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Carole J. Lambert (review date summer 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lambert, Carole J. Review of And the Sea Is Never Full: Memoirs, 1969-, by Elie Wiesel. Southern Humanities Review 35, no. 3 (summer 2001): 301-04.

[In the following favorable review of And the Sea Is Never Full, Lambert maintains that Wiesel “succeeds in humbly but honestly presenting himself as, indeed, a survivor who has circumnavigated both the camps and world political intrigues with his values intact and his wisdom ready to be shared with others.”]

It is very difficult for a novelist, biographer, or memoirist to portray a genuinely good person in an interesting way. Denied the shocking marital infidelities and political scandals...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Friedman, Maurice. “Elie Wiesel's Messianism of the Unredeemed.” Judaism 38, no. 151 (summer 1989): 310-19.

Friedman explores the role of Jewish Messianism in Wiesel's work.

Garber, Frederick. “The Art of Elie Wiesel.” Judaism 22, no. 87 (summer 1973): 301-08.

Garber evaluates Wiesel's literary accomplishments.

Goldsmith, Arnold. “Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Judah Lowe, and the Golem of Prague.” In Studies in American Jewish Literature, Number 5: The Varieties of Jewish Experience, edited by Daniel Walden, pp. 15-28. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.


(The entire section is 378 words.)