Elie Wiesel

(1928-2016), Romanian-American

Elie Wiesel is remembered today as one of the most important writers of the post-WWII period, defining for generations what the Holocaust was and how much was lost. Elie Wiesel was a Romanian-American writer, journalist, activist, and Holocaust survivor. He is best known for Night but also wrote 56 other books, fiction, and non-fiction, most of which deal with subject matter related to the Holocaust.

Life Facts

Interesting Facts

  • Wiesel was 15 when Germany occupied Romania, and his family was sent to Auschwitz/Birkenau. 
  • The first version of Night was in Yiddish and 900 pages long. 
  • Wiesel was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the United States.
  • He pushed to create the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C.
  • Night was translated into 30 languages and is now studied in classrooms around the world.

Famous Books by Elie Wiesel

Night is, without a doubt, Wiesel’s best-known novel. It follows Eliezer, a Jewish teenager from Transylvania, who is a stand-in for Elie Wiesel himself. He endures the holocaust, as Wiesel did, and loses his father along the way. Although there are innumerable similarities between Eliezer and Elie, they are not exactly the same person. Dawn is the second novel in the Night trilogy. It’s a work of fiction, one that focuses on Elisha, another Holocaust survivor. He moves to Palestine and joins a paramilitary group after the war, where he struggles with his choices and what’s asked of him.  Day was published in 1962 and is the final novel in the Night trilogy. It follows a Holocaust survivor who is hit by a taxi in New York City. He spends most of the book recovering from his injuries and trying to come to terms with what happened to him during the Second World War.  The Testament describes the execution of Jewish writers in Russia in August of 1952 at the hands of Stalin. It blends reality with fiction while focusing on the relationship between a writer, Paltiel Kossover, and his son. “Trial of God” was written in 1979 and is one of Wiesel’s few plays. The play is set in a Ukrainian village in 1694 in which the survivors of a Cossack pogrom, or ethnic cleansing, decide to stage a mock trial in which they challenge God. “The Trial of God” was performed at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas, Texas, in 2000 and later in New York and several other locations around the United States.   

Early Life and the Holocaust

Elie Wiesel was born on September 30th, 1928, in Sighet, Romania. The small village, located in the Carpathian Mountains, was also the home to his parents, Sarah Feig and Shlomo Wiesel. His family spoke Yiddish most of the time, but also Hungarian, German, and Romanian. Elie Wiesel’s father encouraged him to learn Hebrew and his mother to study the Torah. In his writings, Wiesel has described his mother as faithful and his father as reasonable. Wiesel was one of four children his parents had but the only son. He was the third child, his elder sisters were Beatrice and Hilda, and his younger was Tzipora. The elder sisters survived the war and met up with Wiesel in France. The younger died along with his mother upon arrival in Birkenau.  Wiesel was 15 when Germany occupied Romania, extending the reach of the Holocaust into Northern Transylvania. He, along with his family and the rest of the Jewish population of Sighet, was placed in ghettos before being deported to Auschwitz/Birkenau. There, the vast majority were killed on arrival, including Wiesel’s mother and younger sister. He and his father were set to work, laboring through long days while trying to maintain their health and avoid being selected for the gas chambers. When speaking about his time in the camps, he described his father (and his desire to protect him) as the main reason that Wiesel was able to survive. His father died towards the end of Wiesel’s time in the camps. Elie Wiesel was liberated on April 11, 1945, by the U.S. Third Army. 

Literary Career

After the war, he joined a transport to France. He learned French and studied at the Sorbonne. Some of his majority influences at the time were Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He started working as a journalist when he was nineteen years old, writing for Israeli and French newspapers. In the 1950s, he worked as an international correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth. He refused to discuss his time in the camps or broader experiences during WWII for ten years after the war. He met and was influenced by François Mauriac during this period and started to reconsider his decision to stay quiet on the subject.  The first version of what is known today as Night was in Yiddish and titled Un di velt hot geshvign (And the World Remained Silent). It was 900 pages long, almost 9 times the length of the English-language Night. It was later translated into French and shortened in 1955 with the title La Nuit. It wasn’t until 1960 that it was translated into English. It only sold a few copies, that is, until hight profile trials brought the Holocaust and its truths into the public eye. It was translated into 30 languages and is now studied in classrooms around the world. 


Career, Honors, and Legacy

In 1955, Wiesel moved to the United States, where he continued to write, eventually publishing 57 books, some fiction, and some non-fiction. The majority of these are based on the Holocaust and its aftermath. In 1975 he founded Moment, a magazine. Throughout his life, Wiesel has worked as a political activist, serving as chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust and leading the push to create the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. Throughout his life, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. It was only in 2009, a few years before his death, that Wiesel returned to Hungary for the first time since the war. There, he participated in an anti-racist gathering and a conference at the Upper House Chamber of the Hungarian Parliament, meeting with the Prime Minister and President of the country. Wiesel died in 2016 at the age of 87 in his Manhattan home.

Influence from other Writers

Elie Wiesel was notably influenced by writers such as Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Literature by Elie Wiesel

Explore literature by Elie Wiesel below, created by the team at Book Analysis.