Holocaust survivor, Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel dies

Author
AAP,
Section
World,
Publish Date
Sunday, 3 July 2016, 7:55AM
Wiesel introducing Barack Obama at the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC, 2012 (Getty Images)
Wiesel introducing Barack Obama at the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC, 2012 (Getty Images)

UPDATED 9.24AM: Activist and writer Elie Wiesel, the World War Two death camp survivor who won a Nobel Peace Prize for becoming the life-long voice of millions of Holocaust victims, has died, Israel's Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem says.

Wiesel, a philosopher, speaker, playwright and professor who also campaigned for the tyrannised and forgotten around the world, was 87.

The Romanian-born Wiesel who later became a US citizen lived by the credo expressed in Night, his landmark story of the Holocaust - "to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time."

In awarding the Peace Prize in 1986, the Nobel Committee praised Wiesel as a "messenger to mankind" and "one of the most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterise the world."

Wiesel did not waver in his campaign never to let the world forget the Holocaust horror. While at the White House in 1985 to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, he even rebuked US President Ronald Reagan for planning to lay a wreath at a German cemetery where some of Hitler's notorious Waffen SS troops were buried.

"Don't go to Bitburg," Wiesel said. "That place is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS."

Wiesel became close to US President Barack Obama but the friendship did not deter him from criticising US policy on Israel.

He spoke out in favour of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and pushed the United States and other world powers to take a harder stance against Iran over its nuclear program.

Wiesel was a hollow-eyed 16-year-old when he emerged from the newly liberated Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. He had been orphaned by the Nazis and their identification number, A-7713, was tattooed on his arm as a physical manifestation of his broken faith and the nightmares that would haunt him throughout his life.

Wiesel and his family had first been taken by the Nazis from the village of Sighetu Marmatiei in the Transylvania region of Romania to Auschwitz, where his mother and one of his sisters died.

Wiesel and his father, Shlomo, ended up in Buchenwald, where Shlomo died. In Night Wiesel wrote of his shame at lying silently in his bunk while his father was beaten nearby.

After the war Wiesel made his way to France, studied at the Sorbonne and by 19 had become a journalist. He pondered suicide and never wrote of or discussed his Holocaust experience until 10 years after the war as a part of a vow to himself.

He was 27 years old in 1955 when Night was published in Yiddish, and Wiesel would later rewrite it for a world audience.

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed ...," Wiesel wrote. "Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live."

Asked by an interviewer in 2000 why he did not go insane, Wiesel said, "To this day that is a mystery to me."

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