Born September 30, 1928, Eliezer Wiesel led a life representative of many Jewish children. Growing up in Sighet, a small village in Romania, his world revolved around family, religious study, community and God. Yet his family, community, and his innocent faith were destroyed upon the deportation of his village in 1944. Arguably the most powerful and renowned passage in Holocaust literature, his first book, Night,a memoir of a 15-year-old death-camp survivor, records the inclusive experience of the Jews:
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.
Never shall I forget that 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 as long as God Himself.
Elie Wiesel had since dedicated his life to ensuring that none of us forget what happened to the Jews.
He survived Auschwitz, Buna, Buchenwald and Gleiwitz. After the liberation of the camps in April 1945, Wiesel spent a few years in a French orphanage and in 1948 began to study in Paris at the Sorbonne. He became involved in journalistic work with the French newspaper L’arche. He was acquainted with Nobel laureate Francois Mauriac, who eventually influenced Wiesel to break his vowed silence and write of his experience in the concentration camps, thus beginning a lifetime of service.
Wiesel has since published nearly sixty books, earned the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, been appointed to chair the United States Presidential Commission on the Holocaust, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement and more. Wiesel’s job as chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust was to plan an American memorial to the victims of the Holocaust – The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – in Washington, DC.
Wiesel writes that the reason for creating the museum must include denying the Nazi’s a posthumous victory, honoring the last wish of victims to tell of what happened to them, and protecting the future of humanity from such evil recurring. Always maintaining his dedicated belief that although all the victims of the Holocaust were not Jewish, all Jews were victims of the Holocaust. Wiesel advocated placing the major emphasis of the memorial on the annihilation of the Jews, while still remembering the murder of many other groups.
Wiesel campaigned for the victims of oppression in many regions of the world, such as South Africa, Nicaragua, and the victims of genocide in many countries. He publicly condemned the 1915 Armenian genocide and remained a strong defender of Human Rights throughout his lifetime.
Elie Wiesel passed away in New York on July 2, 2016, at age 87.