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If you like Elie Wiesel's story, you might also like:
Maya Angelou,
Ehud Barak,
Mikhail Gorbachev,
Nadine Gordimer,
Coretta Scott King,
Shimon Peres,
Albie Sachs,
John Sexton,
Wole Soyinka,
Desmond Tutu,
Lech Walesa
and Oprah Winfrey

Elie Wiesel can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Elie Wiesel's recommended reading: The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony and Other Stories

Elie Wiesel also appears in the videos:
Making a Better World: What is Your Responsibility to the Community?,

Challenges for the 21st Century

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Elie Wiesel in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Advocacy & Citizenship
Character
Tolerance
Freedom and Justice

Related Links:
Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity

Random House

Nobel Prize

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Elie Wiesel
 
Elie Wiesel
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Elie Wiesel Interview (page: 2 / 4)

Nobel Prize for Peace

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  Elie Wiesel

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?


Elie Wiesel: I'm not sure I am, actually. I have written 40 books, it must mean I'm a writer. When you have to write "profession," I'm not going to write "writer." After all, "Profession?" "Writer?" A profession is to be a human being, maybe. That's a very noble profession. Or teacher, the noblest of all professions. I write. As a child, really, at age ten, eleven, or twelve, I was writing already. I wanted to become a writer, and I even wrote a book of commentaries on the Bible. It's so bad. I found it after the war. It's so horrible; I'm embarrassed even to admit that I had written it.



My ambition really was, even as a child, to be a writer, a commentator, and a teacher, but a teacher of Talmud. And here I am. I'm a writer, for want of a better word, and I'm a teacher. I don't teach the same things. I don't write about the same things -- although I do write commentaries on the Bible, and on the Prophets, and the Talmud, and Hasidic Masters. But still, I am a writer and a teacher.

[ Key to Success ] Vision


It's hard for any of us to imagine what you experienced, as an adolescent, in the concentration camps. How did that affect and change what you did with your life?

Elie Wiesel: It affected me a lot. I cannot talk about myself. I like to talk about other people, not about myself, but I'll try to answer you.


Of course it had an overwhelming effect. After the war -- I was 15 when I entered the camp, I was 16 when I left it and all of a sudden you become an orphan and you have no one. I had a little sister and I knew, with my mother the first night that they were swept away by fire. My older sister I discovered by accident after the war in Paris, where I was in an orphanage. But to be an orphan -- you can become an orphan at 50, you are still an orphan. Very often I think of my father and my mother. At any important moment in my life, they are there thinking, "What an injustice." To date, I haven't written much about that period. Of my 40 books, maybe four or five deal with that period because I know that there are no words for it, so all I can try to do is to communicate the incommunicability of the event. Furthermore, I know that even if I found the words you wouldn't understand. It is not because I cannot explain that you won't understand, it is because you won't understand that I can't explain.

[ Key to Success ] Courage


The idea of the writer's mission, to be a witness, to be a messenger, was that part of your intention as a writer?

Elie Wiesel: I wasn't that ambitious really. I wanted to write. I wrote my first book in Yiddish. In 1956, it came out in Buenos Aires, and then in French in 1958, and in New York in 1960.


I wrote it, not for myself really. I wrote it for the other survivors who found it difficult to speak. And I wanted really to tell them, "Look, you must speak. As poorly as we can express our feelings, our memories, but we must try. We are not guaranteeing success, but we must guarantee effort." I wrote it for them, because the survivors are a kind of most endangered species. Every day, every day there are funerals. And I felt that there for a while they were so neglected, so abandoned, almost humiliated by society after the war.


Elie Wiesel Interview Photo


When I became Chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust in 1978, I wanted really to glorify the survivors. There wasn't a committee that I didn't appoint a survivor, because I felt they deserve it. The same reason I wrote is really for that mission. It's always afterwards that, in a way, your friends or your readers convince you that you went beyond that, that you are a messenger, and so forth. I didn't use those words, I used the words simply, "Look, we have to tell the story as best as we can. And we know that we won't succeed." I know I won't succeed. I know I haven't succeeded. Take the word "Holocaust." I am among the first, if not the first to use it in that context. By accident. I was working on an essay, a biblical commentary, and I wrote about the sacrifice, the binding of Isaac, by his father Abraham. In the Bible, there is a word in Hebrew ola, which means burned offering. I felt that's good. That's "holocaust." That's good because it's fire and father and son. Meaning [in the Bible, it was] the son who almost died, but in our case it was the father who died, not the son. The word had so many implications that I felt it was good. Then it became accepted, and everybody used it and then I stopped using it because it was abused. Everything was a holocaust all of a sudden. I heard myself on television once, a sportscaster on television speaking of the defeat of a sports team and he said, "Was that a holocaust!" My God! Everything became a holocaust. In Bosnia, I remember, they spoke about a holocaust. I went to Bosnia to see. I felt, if it is, I must move heaven and earth. Even if it isn't, I must move heaven and earth to prevent it, but at least not to use the word. Well, all of this really is not very easy, but why should it be?


After the war, you did not speak; you were not a witness, for ten years.

Elie Wiesel: I was. You know...


You can be a silent witness, which means silence itself can become a way of communication. There is so much in silence. There is an archeology of silence. There is a geography of silence. There is a theology of silence. There is a history of silence. Silence is universal and you can work within it, within its own parameters and its own context, and make that silence into a testimony. Job was silent after he lost his children and everything, his fortune and his health. Job, for seven days and seven nights he was silent, and his three friends who came to visit him were also silent. That must have been a powerful silence, a brilliant silence. You see, silence itself can be testimony and I was waiting for ten years, really, but it wasn't the intention. My intention simply was to be sure that the words I would use are the proper words. I was afraid of language.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity


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This page last revised on Dec 02, 2013 15:01 EDT