NEW YORK, July 2 (UPI) — Elie Wiesel, the Jewish author, Nobel laureate, academic and Holocaust survivor, has died, the Israeli Holocaust center Yad Vashem announced Saturday. He was 87.
Wiesel was born to religious parents in the town of Sighet, Romania on Sept. 30, 1928. At the age of 15, the Nazis moved Wiesel and his family were into a ghetto in their town before sending them to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. From there, Wiesel and his father were transferred to Buchenwald in 1945, where his father, stricken with dysentery, was beaten and died four months before the camp was liberated by the U.S. army.
Alone after the war, Wiesel was taken to France with a group of orphan Jews in 1948, where he was eventually reunited with his only two immediate family members to survive the Holocaust, older sisters Beatrice and Hilda.
In France, Wiesel studied literature and journalism until 1951. After that, he moved to New York City, where he worked as a foreign correspondent for an Israeli newspaper.
It was there Wiesel wrote his signature memoir, Night, a recounting of his time in the Romanian ghetto and Nazi concentration camps. The book stands as one of the most moving and well-read recountings of the Holocaust.
Wiesel wrote the book initially in Yiddish and the first version, at more than 800 pages, was first published under the title And the World Remained Silent. A subsequent, much shorter version was published in French in 1958, under the title La Nuit. It was translated into English under the title Night in 1960.
The book’s namesake passage offers a haunting and deeply emotional reflection on the Holocaust, and the guilt many survivors felt for having lived when so many others perished.
“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,” Wiesel wrote. “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. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live long as God himself. Never.”
While initial sales were slow, a number of glowing reviews helped it gain national attention. Night would go on to sell more than 6 million copies and has been translated into more than 30 languages.
It became the first in Wiesel’s trilogy of Holocaust books, including Dawn and Day.
Wiesel would go on to write more than 40 works of fiction and nonfiction while remaining a frequent newspaper contributor, as well. He also spent time lecturing at Boston University, City University of New York and Yale University, among other schools.
Wiesel officially became a U.S. citizen in 1963 and played a major role in the creation of the national Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Washington, D.C., after former president Jimmy Carter appointed him chair of the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust in 1978.
Wiesel’s words, “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness” are etched in stone above the memorial’s entrance.
In 1986, Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his writing and public advocacy against violence, repression and racism. He was also granted the U.S. Medal of Freedom, the rank of Grand Croix in France’s Legion of Honor and was honorarily knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of England. He was also awarded Israel’s President’s Medal of Distinction in 2013, where he was once rumored to be a potential presidential candidate, though he never ran for elective office.
“In the darkness of the Holocaust, in which our sisters and brothers were killed — six million — Elie Wiesel served as a ray of light and example of humanity who believed in the goodness in people.”
He is survived by his wife, Marion, son Shlomo and stepdaughter Jennifer.