On September 30, 1928, Nobel Peace Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel was born in Sighet, Transylvania [present-day Romania]. The author of the critically-acclaimed novel, Night, has inspired generations of readers with his storytelling. Many of his real-life experiences found their way into his collection of 57 books, educating readers on a time period many of them would rather forget.
A Holocaust survivor
Wiesel was just 15 years old when, in May 1944, the Nazis deported him and his family to Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland. Wiesel’s mother and the youngest of his three sisters, Tzipora, were killed immediately, while Wiesel and his father were later deported to another camp, Buchenwald, located in Germany. While there, Wiesel kept fighting to survive for his father. He later told Oprah Winfrey, “I knew that if I died, he would die.” Unfortunately, Wiesel’s father perished at Buchenwald before the camp was liberated in April 1945.
Following the liberation, Wiesel was sent to a French orphanage, where he was reunited with his two older sisters—Beatrice and Hilda. Afterward, Wiesel traveled to Paris, where he learned French and studied literature, philosophy, and psychology at the College of Sorbonne. By the time he was 19 years old, Wiesel was working as a French journalist, but he knew he had other stories to write.
Writing his masterpiece
In the 1950s, Wiesel was finally ready to confront his memories of the concentration camps. He penned the first draft of his acclaimed memoir, Night. The manuscript was originally rejected by multiple publishers, who claimed no one wanted to read about the Holocaust. The book was finally released in 1956 in Yiddish as Un di Velt Hot Geshvign [“And the World Remained Silent”]. Then, it was published in French in 1958, titled La Nuit. Finally, an English translation, Night, was released in 1960 and printed in bookstores across the United States.
Wiesel’s masterpiece resonated with critics and readers for decades, becoming a classic of Holocaust literature. Wiesel wrote 56 additional works of fiction and nonfiction, and he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Wiesel lived in Manhattan until his death on July 2, 2016. He was 87 years old. But like many other writers, his legacy has lived on, and in this case, in the form of books and empowering words.