On 2nd July 2016, Elie Wiesel died in his Manhattan home at the age of 87. He not only survived the pain and persecution he received aged 15 during his time in both Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald, but also became known worldwide as an accomplished journalist, author and political activist.
Throughout his lifetime, Wiesel received over 100 doctorates and a knighthood in 2006. However, impressive as this is, his achievements extended beyond this, with his most notable accomplished in 1986; his Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded for his role as a spokesman against violence, repression and racism.
Time to Take Sides
Wiesel was born in 1928 in Sighet, which is now a part of Romania. In 1940, the town’s Jewish population was deported to Auschwitz, where both his mother and sister were murdered in Nazi death chambers. Wiesel and his father were then later transported to Buchenwald, where his father was starved and beaten to death. Wiesel did not discover the survival of his two other sisters until after his liberation and the end of the Second World War.
Wiesel wrote his first book in 1960, which became the first of 60. Night (originally published in French as La Nuit) focused on his memoirs and experiences during the Holocaust. Such success for Wiesel led to the formation of the Elie Wiesel Foundation in 1988 where alongside fellow Holocaust survivor and wife, Marion, the pair focused on humanitarian issues. This followed his acceptance speech for the Peace Prize in 1986, where Wiesel stated: “Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, take sides.” The latter, ‘take sides’, is famously associated with Wiesel’s work, where he aimed to encourage people to act against hatred.
Currently, the foundation focuses on educating Ethiopian-Israeli students and ensuring they are able to participate fully within Israeli society. This follows Wiesel’s previous works as a humanitarian professor at the university in New York, alongside acting as a scholar for both Boston and Yale Universities throughout the 1970s.
Since Wiesel’s death over the weekend, memorials and appreciation have followed for a man who was described by Barak Obama, the current American president, as ‘one of the greatest moral voices of our time’.
It is viewed by some that the specific work that Wiesel associated with was not his greatest achievement, but that it was his ability to fill the gaps where few Jewish people had originally spoken, and his aptitude for educating the wider world on the mass destruction and horror of the Holocaust.
Although it appears the world may have lost a great spokesman and persistent ambassador against prejudice and discrimination, it is undoubtable that his writings and achievements will live on and inspire many generations because, as Wiesel once said: “If we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.”
Image: Elie Wiesel at the 2012 Time 100 gala. Photo by David Shankbone.