Elie Wiesel was a Jewish-American author best known for his memoirs about his experiences in concentration camps during the Holocaust. His books helped to shine a light on the horrors of concentration camp life, and to memorialize all the loved ones who were lost to the genocide.
Elie Wiesel was born in Sighet, Transylvania (Romania) in 1928 to two Jewish parents. He had two older sisters and one younger sister. When he was 15, the Wiesels were forced out of the ghetto in Sighet and onto transport trains which took them to Auschwitz. Elie’s mother and younger sister Tzipora did not survive the camp. Elie stayed with his father, and the two became each other’s sole support, getting each other through the worst physical and mental anguish that they encountered each day.
Wiesel and his father remained at the camp until the end of 1944 when the advance of the Russians caused the Germans to evacuate everyone in the camp to Buchenwald. During their time at Auschwitz, Elie and his father worked in an electrical factory, where they often endured daily beatings and had very little to eat or drink. The march to Buchenwald in the cold and snow almost killed them, and Elie’s father developed dysentery on their arrival. He died three months before the camp was liberated in 1945. Elie was eventually reunited with his two older sisters, and he moved to the United States.
Wiesel details this particular time in his life in the memoir Night, which highlights the absolute horrors he and his father endured during their time in the camps. Prisoners in the camp were kept in inhumane conditions, and they always had the threat of death hanging over them, from abusive guards to disease to starvation. Wiesel’s writings laid the foundation for his activism in years to come. In particular, his foundation The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity helped to fund the building of the United States Holocaust Museum in 1993.
Wiesel passed away in 2016 after a brief illness. His work, however, continues to bear witness to the experiences of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and serves as a constant warning of what can happen when apathy becomes a nation’s prevailing emotion.
“In any society, fanatics who hate don't hate only me—they hate you, too. They hate everybody. Someone who hates one group will end up hating everyone—and, ultimately, hating himself or herself.... They need hate in order to feel superior.”
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.”
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”