While he has become defined in many eyes as a “Holocaust survivor,” he was much more. Below are several facts about Elie Wiesel’s life that show the impact he had on the world during his lifetime.
He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986
The committee wrote the following words in regard to why Elie Wiesel was awarded this honor: “for being a messenger to mankind: his message is one of peace, atonement and dignity.” He is remembered by the committee as being one of the world’s leading spokespeople on the Holocaust. The committed cited the facts of the Holocaust as one reason, but also the importance of fighting against specific attitudes suggesting that other people’s affairs or suffering are “no concern.” Wiesel went on to spend his life working as an activist, calling out injustice, demanding governments adequately acknowledge and address what happened in Europe during the Second World War and more.
Night is part of a trilogy
He published Dawn in 1961 and Day 1962. Dawn is a work of fiction, one that focuses on Elisha, another Holocaust survivor. It follows Elisha after the war as he moves to Palestine and joins a paramilitary group seeking to remove the British from the area. Day 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. In both novels, as well as in Night, Wiesel taps into themes of faith and heritage as he explores what it means now to be Jewish. Night is typically referenced as Wiesel’s best works.
He married a fellow Holocaust survivor
Wiesel’s wife Marion is an Austrian Holocaust survivor who he met in New York in 1955. The two married in Jerusalem in 1969 and started The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity together. They had one child together, Shlomo Elisha Wiesel who is an American businessman who worked for Goldman Sachs.
Elie Wiesel has won a multitude of awards for his work
He received various honors throughout his life. These include the Congressional Gold Medal in 1984, being named a commander in the French Legion of Honor, a star of Romania, and an honorary knighthood in the United Kingdom. Wiesel also won numerous literary awards in addition to his Nobel Peace Prize. These include the 2012 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize for Lifetime Achievement, National Jewish Book Award, Jewish Heritage Award, Grand Prize in Literature from the City of Paris, Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement, Norman Mailer Award, National Humanities Medal, Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement and many more.
He was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace
Wiesel was designated as a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 1998. This elevated the platform from which he had to speak on causes close to his heart and those promoted by the UN. He brought various hard to address topics into the public’s eye. For example, eradicating poverty and information in regard to atrocities occurring around the world. Wiesel was often present at the UN, such as at the first-ever International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon spoke of him as one of the world’s “most important witnesses — and one of its most eloquent advocates of tolerance and peace.”
Together with his wife Elie Wiesel founded the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity
The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity was founded a year after Wiesel won his Nobel Peace Prize. The foundation’s stated goal is “to combat indifference, intolerance, and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding, and equality.”The foundation was created by Wiesel and his wife, Marion, to serve “as a catalyst for change and action.” To this day they hold conferences focusing on themes including peace, education, and more. Unfortunately, the foundation lost millions in Bernard Mardoff’s Ponzi scheme. Wiesel also lost his life savings.
Wiesel appeared in a famous photograph taken at Buchenwald
The photograph depicted male inmates sitting and laying on cramped bunk beds and was taken at Buchenwald Concentration Camp on April 16th, 1945 after the camp was liberated by the Allies. The photo was published in the New York Times the next month. In the photograph, Wiesel is in the second row of bunks, seventh from the left. He can be spotted next to the second vertical beam that bisects the photo.
Wiesel spoke out about Bosnian ethnic cleansing and South African apartheid
The period of Bosnian ethnic cleansing occurred during the Bosnian war, from 1992 to 1995. Large numbers of Bosnian Muslims and Croats were removed from their homes and expelled by the Army of Republika Srpska. When speaking about the events, the UN Security Council described the Bosniaks as participating in “grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other violations of international humanitarian law.”
The South African apartheid is a better-known conflict in which systematic racist segregation allowed the white population of South Africa to dominate the black. Under this system, white South Africans had a higher social status with more rights than black Africans.
Wiesel was reunited with his sister when she saw his picture in a French newspaper
After being liberated from the camps, Wiesel went to live in a French orphanage While there, a journalist took his photo and it ended up in a newspaper. His sister, who had also been evacuated to France, saw it and they were reunited. He was eventually reunited with both of his older sisters, Beatrice and Hilda. His younger sister Tzipora died upon arrival to Birkenau along with his mother.