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Elie Wiesel | Biography

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Eliezer (Elie) Wiesel was born into a religious Jewish family on September 30, 1928, in Sighet, Romania. He attended a yeshiva, or Jewish school for religious instruction, to study the Talmud, a set of ancient texts primarily focused on Jewish law.

Sighet was annexed by Hungary in 1940. After the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944, the town's Jews were forced to live in ghettos (crowded areas designated for Jewish residents). In May 1944, all the Jews of Sighet were deported by the Nazis to death camps. Upon arrival at Birkenau, part of the network of camps called Auschwitz, Wiesel and his father were sent one way, while his mother and three sisters were sent another. It would be the last time Wiesel saw his mother and youngest sister, who were sent to their death in a gas chamber; his two older sisters would survive. Wiesel and his father lived and worked in a number of concentration camps, including their final destination, Buchenwald. They labored under deplorable conditions and suffered from malnutrition. His father died a few months before Buchenwald was liberated in April 1945; Wiesel was 16. His experiences during the Holocaust are depicted in Night.

After the war, Wiesel spent a few years in a French orphanage before going on to study at the Sorbonne in Paris. He became a journalist and wrote for both French and Israeli publications. In 1956, he published a memoir called And the World Would Remain Silent. A shorter version was published in France as La Nuit in 1958, and a still shorter English translation called Night appeared in 1960. In time, Night became an acclaimed best seller. A new translation from French to English by his wife, Marion Wiesel, was published in 2006. In the preface, Wiesel described himself as "a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory." Wiesel went on to write more than 60 books of fiction and nonfiction.

Elie Wiesel moved to the United States in the 1950s and became a college professor and a human rights activist. He taught at Boston University, City University of New York, and Yale. From 1978–86 he served as Chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust, which was charged with creating a memorial to the Holocaust that became the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. After winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, Wiesel and his wife founded the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. The organization fights indifference, intolerance, and injustice. Wiesel's statement, "to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all," sums up the foundation's goals.

Wiesel died on July 2, 2016, in New York City.

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