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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
Freedom and Justice

Related Links:
Wiesel Foundation
Official Bio
Nobel Prize

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Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel
Profile of Elie Wiesel Biography of Elie Wiesel Interview with Elie Wiesel Elie Wiesel Photo Gallery

Elie Wiesel Interview (page: 2 / 3)

Nobel Prize for Peace

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  Elie Wiesel

The book Night, was not easily published, was it?

Elie Wiesel: Neither in France nor here, in spite of Mauriac. He was the most famous author in Europe, and he brought it personally from publisher to publisher. They didn't want it. It was too morbid, they said. "Nobody wants to hear these stories." Finally, a small publisher (who, by the way, was also Beckett's publisher, which means he had courage) published it.

So we brought it to an American publisher. It went from publisher to publisher to publisher. All of them refused it. They gave the same reasons, until a small publisher picked it up. From 1960 to 1963, three years, it didn't sell 1500 copies. Nobody wanted to read it. It doesn't matter. I am not here to sell, I'm here to write.

Elie Wiesel Interview Photo
Childhood is a recurring theme in your writing. Could you tell us about yours?

Elie Wiesel: My childhood was really a childhood blessed with love and hope and faith and prayer. I come from a very religious home and in my little town I was not the only one who prayed and was loved. There were people who were poorer than us, yet in my town, we were considered to be not a wealthy family, but well-to-do, which means we weren't hungry. There were people who were.

I spent most of my time talking to God more than to people. He was my partner, my friend, my teacher, my King, my sovereign, and I was so crazily religious that nothing else mattered.

Oh, from time-to-time we had anti-Semitic outbursts. Twice a year, Christmas and Easter, we were afraid to go out because those nights we used to be beaten up by hoodlums. It didn't matter that much. In a way, I was almost used to that. I saw it as part of nature. It's cold in the winter, it's hot in the summer and at Easter and Christmas you are being beaten up by a few anti-Semitic hoodlums.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Now, it is still the child in me that asks the questions. It is still the child in me that I am trying to entertain or to reach with my stories, which are his stories.

What people were important to you? Who influenced you? Who inspired you?

Elie Wiesel: Well, naturally, my grandfather.

Elie Wiesel Interview Photo
Elie Wiesel Interview Photo

He was a Hasid, meaning a member of the Hasidic community, and I loved him, I adored him. So, thanks to him, I became a Hasid too. And my mother -- who actually continued his tradition -- she's the one who brought me to Hasidic Masters. And all the stories I tell now -- I've written so many books with Hasidic tales -- these are not mine, these are theirs, my mother's and my grandfather's. My father taught me how to reason, how to reach my mind. My soul belonged to my grandfather and my mother. They enriched me, of course. They influenced me profoundly, to this day. When I write, I have the feeling, literally, physically, that one of them is behind my back, looking over my shoulder and reading what I'm writing. I'm terribly afraid of their judgment. After the war -- I wrote about it in my autobiography so I want to come back to that subject -- I had a teacher in France who was totally crazy. He spoke 30 languages, literally 30 languages. One day he learned that I knew Hungarian, and he didn't. He felt so bad that he learned Hungarian in two weeks. In two weeks he knew more about Hungarian literature than I did. Then I had, in New York, a very great teacher, a very great Master. His name was Saul Lieberman, a Talmudic Scholar. I've studied Talmud all my life. I still do, even now, every day. For 17 years we were friends, as only a real teacher and a good student can be.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

As a boy, what books most influenced you, were most important to you?

Elie Wiesel: Religious books, of course.

At home we didn't study the prophets that much. We studied the five books of Moses -- the Pentateuch -- and then, again, Talmud and Hasidic stories. They, of course, had a lasting influence on me. Secular literature? We had to go to school, so we went to school too, but the main impact I received was from my religious schools as a child.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

After the war, I began reading, of course. I went to the Sorbonne. I began reading literature, Dostoyevsky and Thomas Mann, the usual, Kafka. I remember the awakening that occurred in me when I read, for the first time, Franz Kafka. Literally, I remember it. I remember it was in the evening when I began reading. I spent the entire night reading and, in the morning, I heard the garbage collector around five o'clock. Usually, I was annoyed at the garbage collector. It's a very ugly noise that they make, ugly sounds. That morning I was happy. I wanted to run out and embrace them, all these garbage collectors, because they taught me that there was another world than the world of Kafka, which is absurd and desperate, and despairing.

I read a lot. I teach my students, not creative writing, but creative reading and it is still from my childhood. You take a text, you explore it, you enter it with all your heart and all your mind. And then you find clues that were left for you, really foredestined to be received by you from centuries ago. Generation after generation there were people who left clues, and you are there to collect them and, at one point, you understand something that you hadn't understood before. That is a reward, and as a teacher I do the same thing. When I realize there is a student there, in the corner, who understands, there is a flicker in the eye. That is the greatest reward that a teacher can receive.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

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This page last revised on Jul 03, 2016 20:28 EDT
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