For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living.
To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.
The above words, from Elie Wiesel’s autobiographical work Night, perfectly describe his aim and achievement in his seminal work. Night portrays Wiesel’s time as a teenager in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, where he lost his mother, father, and younger sister at the hands of the Nazis, yet survived to be liberated by the Allied troops. Here, as in many of his other sixty odd publications, Wiesel keeps the memory of the experiences or himself or his fellow Holocaust victims, living and dead, in reverent memory and away from offensive, forgetful history. A champion of human rights around the world, founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, professor of humanities at Boston University, and winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, Elie Wiesel passed away on Saturday 2nd July 2016 at his home in Manhattan. He was eighty-seven years old.
Born in 1928 in Romania, Wiesel grew up in a humanist Jewish family. Four years after his town and the surrounding area was annexed by Hungary in 1940, the entire population – including Wiesel’s entire family – was deported to Auschwitz. Wiesel and his father were then sent to Buchenwald, where his father died and Wiesel was freed when the war ended. Afterwards, he moved to France; became a journalist; and attended lectures on literature, philosophy, and psychology at the Sorbonne.
Like many Holocaust survivors, Wiesel did not immediately talkLike many Holocaust survivors, Wiesel did not immediately talkabout his experiences. He refused to discuss the subject until he met François Mauriac, the 1952 Nobel Laureate in Literature, who became a close friend. Out of Mauriac’s encouragement came Night, a small volume that barely exceeds one hundred pages published in 1960. In it, Wiesel’s bleakness, honesty, and eloquence paint a testimony to his experiences and the lives that were lost in in the atrocity. Wiesel’s use of the term Holocaust to describe the Nazi cemented the term in modern usage and kept the tragedy in the public conscience; he never forgot and never stopped fighting for memory. Wiesel’s experiences touched millions around the world: Night sold over 10 million copies in the United States and was translated into over 30 languages.
Wiesel moved to New York City in 1955 and married Marion Erster Rose in 1969; she, an Austrian Holocaust survivor, has translated several of his works. After Night, some of his other most famous works are The Trial of God, All Rivers Run to the Sea, and The Sea is Never Full. He won numerous literary prizes for his writings, which were mainly novels and nonfiction centred around the Holocaust.
Wiesel did not limit his quest for human dignity and justice to the Holocaust. Among others, he advocated for the victims of the Armenian genocide, South African apartheid, Kurdish oppression, Argentina’s Desaparecidos, the crisis in Darfur, and the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. He has been awarded over ninety honorary degrees from universities and colleges worldwide and thirty international awards and honours. He and Marion founded the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity in 1986, the same year that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech, he said, ‘When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant’. He visited Buchenwald with President Obama and Chancellor Merkel, received a knighthood for his work in Holocaust education, and has been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Wiesel is survived by his wife and son.