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Elie Wiesel


Brief Biography:

Born September 30, 1928 in Sighet, Transylvania (part of today’s Romania)

1940: Sighet becomes part of Hungary

1944: (March) Sighet occupied by German soldiers; Jews ordered to wear yellow stars

1944: (May) Deported to Auschwitz Birkenau – lied about age

1945: (January) Forced to march for many miles, and eventually deported by train to Buchenwald (of the 20,000 prisoners who began the march/deportation, only 6,000 arrived at Buchenwald)

1945: (June) Father dies in Buchenwald

1945: (April) Underground movement attacks SS – same day the camp was liberated

1945-47: Lived in France; studied French and began writing; reunited with one sister

1948: Studies at Sorbonne University

1950s: Works as reporter; wrote Night and other autobiographical works

1960s-90s: Wrote many other novels/memoirs; becomes politically involved in ending suffering of all peoples; appointed by Pres. Carter to head Holocaust Memorial Council; Wiesel Foundation for Humanity founded

2007: Attacked by a man suspected to be a Holocaust denier

2009: Speech at the USHMM Days of Remembrance

Awards: Congressional Gold Medal (1985), Nobel Peace Prize (1986)
Excerpts from Night:

Not far from us, flames were leaping up from a ditch, gigantic flames. They were burning something. A lorry drew up at the pit and delivered its load - little children. Babies! Yes, I saw it - saw it with my own eyes...those children in the flames. (Is it surprising that I could not sleep after that? Sleep had fled from my eyes.) [...] I pinched my face. Was I still alive? Was I awake? I could not believe it. How could it be possible for them to burn people, children, and for the world to keep silent? No, none of this could be true. It was a nightmare.... Soon I should wake with a start, my heart pounding, and find myself back in the bedroom of my childhood, among my books.... [...] My forehead was bathed in cold sweat. But I told [my father] that I did not believe that they could burn people in our age, that humanity would never tolerate it. [My father replied,] "Humanity? Humanity is not concerned with us. Today anything is allowed. Anything is possible, even these crematories...."

[...] Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.



The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.

I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I've been closer to him for that reason.
I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead. And anyone who does not remember betrays them again.

Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.

Once you bring life into the world, you must protect it. We must protect it by changing the world.

One person of integrity can make a difference.

Of course, indifference can be tempting -- more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbors are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.

In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony, one does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response.

Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor -- never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten…. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.

[O]ur only miserable consolation was that we believed that Auschwitz and Treblinka were closely guarded secrets; that the leaders of the free world did not know what was going on behind those black gates and barbed wire; that they had no knowledge of the war against the Jews… If they knew, we thought, surely those leaders would have moved heaven and earth to intervene. They would have spoken out with great outrage and conviction. They would have bombed the railways leading to Birkenau, just the railways, just once. And now we knew, we learned, we discovered that the Pentagon knew, the State Department knew.

But then, there were human beings who were sensitive to our tragedy. Those non-Jews, those Christians, that we called the "Righteous Gentiles," whose selfless acts of heroism saved the honor of their faith. Why were they so few? Why was there a greater effort to save SS murderers after the war than to save their victims during the war?

… Does it mean that we have learned from the past? Does it mean that society has changed? Has the human being become less indifferent and more human? Have we really learned from our experiences? Are we less insensitive to the plight of victims of ethnic cleansing and other forms of injustices in places near and far?... What about the children? Oh, we see them on television, we read about them in the papers, and we do so with a broken heart. Their fate is always the most tragic, inevitably. When adults wage war, children perish. We see their faces, their eyes. Do we hear their pleas? Do we feel their pain, their agony? Every minute one of them dies of disease, violence, famine. Some of them -- so many of them -- could be saved.