Elie Wiesel—author, activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor—died on Saturday at the age of 87.
Wiesel is credited with ensuring that the horrors of the Holocaust remain inked indelibly in the social consciousness, an effort perpetuated through his roles as activist, writer and teacher. In 1986, Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his lifelong commitment to promoting peace and justice. As the committee wrote at the time:
“It is the Committee’s opinion that Elie Wiesel has emerged as one of the most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterize the world.”
Though he authored a total of 57 books, his best known work is the memoir Night, which details his experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz. In its own obituary for Wiesel, the New York Times excerpted a selection from that account, which captures the essence of the haunting, starkly rendered prose for which he was known:
“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,” Mr. 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.”
Wiesel was born September 30, 1928, in a Transylvanian town that at the time was part of Romania. In 1944, his family was deported to Auschwitz, where his mother and sister perished. Wiesel and his father were later transferred to Buchenwald, from which he was liberated in 1945. His father did not survive.
Wiesel went to France following the war, where he worked as a journalist and thus began his long career chronicling his experiences. His output in the ensuing years was voluminous—his oeuvre encompasses novels, books, essays plays and, the Times notes, two cantatas. His work, he said in Why I Write, was an act he considered a sacred obligation.
“I never intended to to be a philosopher, or a theologian,” he wrote. “The only role I sought was that of witness. I believed that having survived by chance, I was duty-bound to give meaning to my survival, to justify each moment of my life.”
Image via AP.