Elie Wiesel was born on September 30, 1928, in Sighet, a small town on the Hungarian-Romanian border. Sighet had a population of ten thousand Jews, and Wiesel grew up in a close-knit community shaped by its religious beliefs and practices. But all this changed in 1944, near the end of World War II, when all the Jews of the town were deported by the Germans. Wiesel and his family were sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. He and his father were then sent to Buna, and finally to Buchenwald, where his father died in January, 1945, three months before the camp was liberated by the American Army. Wiesel survived the camps, but his mother and one of his three sisters did not.
After the war, Wiesel lived in an orphanage in France for several years before moving in 1948 to Paris to study philosophy at the Sorbonne. He also began his work in journalism, with the French newspaper L'arche.
For ten years Wiesel refused to discuss his experiences during the Holocaust. In 1955, he was persuaded to break his silence, and as a result he wrote Night, which was first published in French in 1956. (The French title is La Nuit). Night was translated into English in 1958. It has since sold millions of copies, and is the best known, and one of the most powerful, of Holocaust memoirs.
In 1956, while he was in New York, Wiesel was hit by a taxi cab, and spent a year in a wheelchair recovering from his injuries. He then applied for U.S. citizenship, which he acquired in 1963. He remained in New York and wrote for a Yiddish-language newspaper, the Jewish Daily Forward.
Wiesel continued to write books in French. L'Aube (1961, translated as Dawn), and Le Jour (1962, The Accident ) were semi-autobiographical novels. In La Ville de la Chance (1962, The Town Beyond the Wall ), Wiesel wrote of returning to Sighet, his home town, a trip which he did not actually make until 1964.
Wiesel now had an international reputation as a writer about the Holocaust. He also took an active interest in contemporary affairs concerning Jews and other oppressed people. He visited the Soviet Union, where Jews were being persecuted, in 1965, and wrote about the issue in The Jews of Silence (1966). In 1968, his book A Beggar in Jerusalem, was about the six-day war between Israel and the Arab states in 1967.
Wiesel also wrote a number of plays and more novels, as well as essays and short stories. He has written over thirty books to date.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Wiesel Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. In 1985 he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom and in 1986, the Nobel Peace Prize.
Wiesel published his memoirs in 1995 as All Rivers Run to the Sea. Since 1976, he has been Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities at Boston University.
Wiesel lives in New York City with his wife Marion and their son, Elisha.