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Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and author, dies at 87

The cover of one of Elie Wiesel's numerous memoirs. The author told the New York Times he had written more than 60 books. The official published count varies.
The cover of one of Elie Wiesel's numerous memoirs. The author told the New York Times he had written more than 60 books. The official published count varies.

WE MUST never forget. Elie Wiesel spent his life echoing those words across the world.

The Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner and author of more than 60 books died on Sunday (Australian time) at his home in New York.

The 87-year-old came to the world's attention as a writer in 1960 when an English translation of his book Night gained attention from an audience horrified by the revelations made inside.

The book, known as both memoir and novel, is a slim volume of little more than 120 pages.

It recounts his dramatic and horrific experience during the Holocaust as a Jewish teen separated first from his town and then from his family. 

German soldiers took Elie, his family and other Jews in his small Hungarian (then Transylvanian) town hostage and transported most of them to concentration camps.

Mr Wiesel himself, then only 15, became a prisoner at Auschwitz alongside his father. 

His father and mother both died in the camps.

He spent almost a year being forced to work in conditions across multiple camps that are known, and shuddered at, in part thanks to the work of people like Mr Wiesel.

The memoir Night, by Elie Wiesel
The memoir Night, by Elie Wiesel

The most famous passage of Night recounts the first night Mr Wiesel and his fellow new prisoners, most of whom did not survive, spent in the camps.

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed," he wrote.

"Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky."

Mr Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and used his acceptance speech to urge the world never to turn away from mass crime such as the Holocaust.

"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation," he said.

"We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.

"When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.

"Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the centre of the universe."

Mr Wiesel also spoke at length during his life of his legacy - and his feeling of guilt - as a survivor.

During his Nobel acceptance speech, Mr Wiesel said the honour belonged to the Jewish people.

"No one may speak for the dead. No one may interpret their mutilated dreams and visions. And yet, at moments such as this, at all moments, I sense their presence. I always do.  The presence of my parents, that of my little sister," he said.

Topics:  editors picks holocaust



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