Elie Wiesel was a Jewish Romanian-American writer, lecturer, and the author of many works about Judaism, the Holocaust, and the moral responsibility of humanity to oppose intolerance, bigotry, and genocide, including the best-selling ‘Night.’ He was born in Romania and was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in 1944 as part of the Holocaust. He was a teenager at the time, and he witnessed the atrocities committed against Jews in concentration camps, where he lost both of his parents. He was liberated, along with the other camp inmates, after World War II ended, but the war’s memories would torment him for the rest of his life. He then travelled to France to study literature, philosophy, and psychology at the Sorbonne before working as a journalist. For years, he hesitated to write about or share his experiences during the Holocaust, but he changed his mind after receiving counsel from Catholic writer Francois Mauriac, who pushed him to do so. As a result, Wiesel penned the memoir “Night,” which became a somber testament to the Holocaust. His profession eventually brought him to the United States, where he settled down for good. Later in life, he became a political activist and humanitarian, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for expressing his concern about the “world humanitarian crisis.”
Childhood and Adolescence
Elie Wiesel was born on September 30, 1928, in the Transylvanian town of Sighet, which is now part of Romania. His father, Shlomo Wiesel, was an observant Jew who owned a grocery store, and his mother, Sarah, was a farmer’s daughter. He was the youngest of three sisters.
Elie’s universe focused on family, religious study, community, and God as he grew up in a small village in Romania.
Shlomo fostered in his son a strong sense of humanism, urging him to study Modern Hebrew and literature, while his mother urged him to study Torah and Kabbalah. Elie was up speaking Yiddish at home and spoke Hungarian, Romanian, and German as well.
Survivors of the Holocaust
While World War II ravaged all of Europe, the Nazis marched into Wiesel’s city in 1944, putting an end to his idyllic life. He was taken prisoner, along with his family and other Jewish people of his community, and imprisoned in ghettos.
The Wiesel family was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland a few weeks later, where his mother and one of his sisters were murdered. Wiesel and his father were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp after being separated from his two other sisters.
At this camp, Elie’s father died, leaving him an orphan at the age of 16.
The war ended in 1945, and the camp was liberated on April 11, 1945, by the US Third Army.
A Years Later
Following his liberation, the adolescent was thrown on a train with 400 other orphans and transferred to France, where he was allocated to a Jewish organization’s home in Normandy. He studied literature, philosophy, and psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris.
He began working as a writer in his late teens and began writing for the French newspaper ‘L’Arche.’ In 1949, he was assigned as a correspondent to Israel. He was also engaged as a Paris reporter for the Israeli newspaper ‘Yedioth Ahronoth’ while in Israel.
François Mauriac, the 1952 Nobel Laureate in Literature, whom Wiesel met throughout his journalistic career and became a personal friend, was a French author.
Wiesel had previously refused to write or speak about his experiences during the Holocaust. However, once Mauriac persuaded him to begin writing about his traumatic experiences, he reconsidered his decision.
‘Un di velt hot geshvign’ (And the World Remained Silent) was his first memoir, which he authored and published in Yiddish. In 1955, he rewrote ‘La Nuit,’ a condensed version of the manuscript in French.
Wiesel traveled to New York in 1955 to work as a foreign reporter for the Israeli newspaper ‘Yediot Ahronot.’ In 1960, he published the English translation of his memoir, ‘Night.’
The book first sold only a few copies, but following some positive reviews and televised interviews with Wiesel, it grew in popularity. It was translated into 30 languages during the next few years, and ten million copies were sold in the United States.
Following the popularity of his debut memoir, he published roughly 60 more volumes, the majority of which were nonfiction Holocaust literature and novels.
He established a reputation as a major literary personality who emerged from the Holocaust and depicted the atrocities on a deeply personal level.
Another of Elie Wiesel’s true loves was teaching. He was a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York from 1972 to 1976, and in 1976 he was named the Andrew Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Boston University, where he taught in the religion and philosophy departments. Many of his students were Holocaust survivors’ children.
He was also a strong supporter of Jewish issues. He was appointed head of the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust (later called the US Holocaust Memorial Council) in 1978 and served in that capacity until 1986. He oversaw the construction of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. while in this post.
In 1982, he was named Yale University’s inaugural Henry Luce Visiting Scholar in Humanities and Social Thought.
In 1986, he founded the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity with his wife, Marion. The foundation’s goal was to create understanding amongst ethnic groups who were at odds.
From 1997 to 1999, he was the Ingeborg Rennert Visiting Professor of Judaic Studies at Columbia University’s Barnard College.
Elie’s Major Projects
Elie Wiesel was the author of the Holocaust memoir ‘Night,’ which chronicled his time in the Nazi German prison camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald with his father between 1944 and 1945. The book has been translated into 30 languages and has sold over ten million copies in the United States, making it a notable work of Holocaust literature.
Elie Wiesel and his wife established the Elie Wiesel Foundation in 1986 after winning the Nobel Peace Prize. “To oppose indifference, prejudice, and injustice via worldwide discussion and youth-focused activities that promote acceptance, understanding, and equality,” the foundation’s purpose states.
Wiesel was a key figure in the development of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), the country’s official Holocaust memorial, as Chairman of President Jimmy Carter’s President’s Commission on the Holocaust.
Achievements & Awards
For speaking out against violence, repression, and bigotry, Elie Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. While presenting him with the Nobel Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee referred to him as a “messenger to mankind.”
In 1992, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He also received the National Humanities Medal (2009), the Norman Mailer Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2011), and the Florida Holocaust Museum’s Loebenberg Humanitarian Award (2012).
He had received over 90 honorary degrees from universities around the world, including Doctor of Letters from City College of New York (2008), Doctor of Humane Letters from Bucknell University (2009), Doctor of Humane Letters from College of Charleston (2011), and Doctorate from The University of British Columbia (2012).
Personal History and Legacy
In 1969, Elie Wiesel married Marion Erster Rose. Many of his writings were translated by his Austrian wife. Shlomo Elisha Wiesel, Wiesel’s father’s name, was their only child.
In his final years, he struggled with health issues and died on July 2, 2016, at the age of 87.
Estimated Net worth
Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor. Elie Wiesel has a net worth of $5 million as a professor and activist in the United States. Elie Wiesel was born in Sighet, Maramatiel, Kingdom of Romania, in 1928.
He is the author of 57 books and a Holocaust survivor. The German army deported individuals who were Jewish and residing in Sighet, including Wiesel and his entire family, to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944.