April 11, 1945 — Elie Wiesel, who went on to become a celebrated human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize-winning author of more than 50 books, was among the thousands of prisoners freed from Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany on this day.
In May 1944, the Nazis sent 15-year-old Wiesel and his family to Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp in Poland, from their home in Romania.
His mother and the youngest of his three sisters perished at Auschwitz, while he and his father were moved to Buchenwald where his father died of starvation and dysentery just months before it was liberated by Allied troops. Seventeen-year-old Elie was still alive when American soldiers opened the camp.
After the war Wiesel lived in a French orphanage, studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and went on to work as a journalist in France. It was not until the early 1950s that he could bring himself to talk about the horrors he experienced in the concentration camps. Then he wrote, in Yiddish, his book, "Un di Velt Hot Geshvign (And the World Remained Silent)".
Translated into English in 1960 under the simple title, "Night", the book eventually became a classic of Holocaust literature. It has sold millions of copies and has been translated into more than 30 languages.
In 1963 Wiesel made his home in New York City, and became a United States citizen. He was a visiting scholar at Yale University, a Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City College of New York, and Professor in the Humanities at Boston University. He was chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council from 1980 to 1986, and served on numerous boards of trustees and advisors.
In 1985 President Ronald Reagan presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal, an honour eclipsed the following year when he won the Nobel Peace Prize "for being a messenger to mankind: his message is one of peace, atonement and dignity.”
The citation declared: “For the world to remember and learn from the Holocaust was not Elie Wiesel's only goal. He thought it equally important to fight indifference and the attitude that "it's no concern of mine". Elie Wiesel saw the struggle against indifference as a struggle for peace. In his words, "the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference”.”
The awards and honours continued to flow, with President Barack Obama presenting Wiesel with a National Humanities Medal in 2010.
But ill health began to take its toll and the following year Wiesel had to face open heart surgery. He died at the age of 87 in July 2016.
Published: April 3, 2021