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Elie Wiesel’s Writings

 a  “My first Visit to his [Rebbe Menahem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch’s] court lasted almost an entire night. I had informed him at the outset that I was a Hasid of Wizhnitz, not Lubavitch, and that I had no intention of switching allegiance. ‘The important thing is to be a Hasid,’ he replied. ‘It matters little whose.’”

(Elie Wiesel: All Rivers Run to the Sea. Memoirs, Vol. One 1928–1969 (London: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 402.)
 b  “‘What are you writing’ the Rebbe asked. ‘Stories,’ I said. He wanted to know what kind of stories: true stories. ‘About people you knew?’ Yes, about people I might have known. ‘About things that happened?’ Yes, about things that happened or could have happened. ‘But they did not?’ No, not all of them did. In fact, some were invented from almost the beginning to almost the end. The Rebbe leaned forward as if to measure me up and said with more sorrow than anger: ‘That means you are writing lies!’ I did not answer immediately. The scolded child within me had nothing to say in his defense. Yet, I had to justify myself: ‘Things are not that simple, Rebbe. Some events do take place but are not true; others are—although they never occurred.’”
(Elie Wiesel: Legends of Our Time (New York: Avon, 1970), p. viii.)

Elie Wiesel’s writings and their reception are so extensive that reference can be made here to only a few, and starting with his witness account La Nuit (1958, Engl. Night, 1960), only selected aspects of other texts can be addressed in greater detail. Wiesel’s writings include journalistic works, autobiographical texts, novels, plays, academic papers on topics drawn from Jewish tradition, and numerous essays. The experience of the Holocaust is the basis for his work. The question of the meaning of this experience for the particular time at which he is writing finds expression in many of his novels and essays, culminating in a discussion of its significance for the generation of the children of Holocaust survivors in the novels Le cinquième fils (1983, Engl. The Fifth Son, 1985) and L'oublié (1989, Engl. The Forgotten, 1992). From the 1960s into the 1980s, Wiesel also concentrated on the situation of the Soviet Jews, as in Les Juifs du silence (1966, Engl. The Jews of Silence, 1966) and the play Zalmen ou la folie de Dieu (1968, Engl. Zalmen, or the Madness of God, 1974).


Many of his texts reflect a continuous engagement with the religious traditions and teachings of Hasidism, in which he grew up and by which he was deeply affected. In the first part of his autobiography, Tous les fleuves vont à la mer (1994, Engl. All Rivers Run to the Sea, 1995), Elie Wiesel identifies himself, even for the postwar period, as a Vishnitz Hasid.  a  Thus his examination of the religious and cultural traditions of East European Jewry appears as an attempt to give the world of his childhood an abiding place in a post-Holocaust world as well, defying the rupture in Wiesel’s life caused by the time in Auschwitz and the Nazis’ destruction of Hasidic culture in Eastern Europe. Over the years, active preservation of Jewish tradition emerges as increasingly central in Wiesel’s writings and life, in opposition to the National Socialists’ work of destruction. In particular, his interpretations of the Akedah (binding of Isaac), “The Sacrifice of Isaac: A Survivor’s Story,” and of the story of Job, “Job: Our Contemporary,” are characterized by this aim, and their themes—the father-son relationship of the Akedah and Job’s expostulation with God—also recur in other writings of Wiesel’s, such as his survival account Night.


In the original French edition of Night—with the exception of his first book, Wiesel has written all his books in French—this is labeled témoignage (testimony), and the subtitle of the German-language edition is Erinnerung und Zeugnis, “memoir and testimony.” Nevertheless, scholars and reviewers repeatedly have asked whether this book, the most widely read survivor’s account in the United States, should to some extent be approached as a novel. Wiesel has always voiced clear opposition to that,[1] although Night also was published as part of a trilogy, in combination with two novels. His narrative texts, which also can be interpreted as “thought-images” (Denkbilder), are neither historical writing restricted to the exactitude of documentation nor scholarly argument; instead, they offer readers a different kind of opportunity, inducing open-minded thinking, to reflect on historical events, in this case the Holocaust, and on the questions these events raise regarding human life and relationships. Such a concept of narration can be seen in the transmission of Jewish religious tradition, and thus it is no surprise that in several places in his work Wiesel uses a “Hasidic tale” to field the question of what is true or historically accurate in his stories.  b 


Elie Wiesel’s central text, Night, can be read as a literary styling of his witness account or also in the context of a trilogy including two novels: Night, Dawn, and Day. Night thus appears as part of Elie Wiesel’s examination, in the medium of narrative writing, of his existence as a Holocaust survivor in the late 1950s and of the existential questions posed thereby. But one can also compare Night with the way Wiesel’s autobiography deals with his time in the camp. It becomes clear that the writer Elie Wiesel gives his memory of the time in Auschwitz a different styling and new focal points of presentation, new avenues of approach to his memory, depending on the particular place and age at which he writes.

(MN; transl. KL)


Seidman, Naomi: “Elie Wiesel and the Scandal of Jewish Rage.” In: Jewish Social Studies 3 (1996), No. 1, pp. 1–19.

Weissman, Gary: Fantasies of Witnessing. Postwar Efforts to Experience the Holocaust. Ithaca, NY/London: Cornell UP, 2004, pp. 28–88.

Wiesel, Eliezer: ... און די וועלט האָט געשוויגן […and the World Remained Silent]. Buenos Aires: Union Central Israelita Polaca en la Argentina, 1956.

Wiesel, Elie: La Nuit. Préface de François Mauriac. Paris: Minuit, 1958.

Wiesel, Elie: Night. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.

Wiesel, Elie: La Nuit… L’Aube. Le Jour. Paris: Seuil, 1969.

Wiesel, Elie: Night / Dawn / Day. Northvale, NJ/London: Aronson, 1987.

Wiesel, Elie: Legends of Our Time. New York: Avon, 1970.

Wiesel, Elie: Messengers of God. Biblical Portraits and Legends. New York: Random House, 1976.

Wiesel, Elie: “An Interview Unlike Any Other.” In: A Jew Today. New York: Random House, 1978, pp. 14–26.
Wiesel, Elie: “A Plea for the Survivors.” In: A Jew Today. New York: Random House, 1978, pp. 185–208.
Wiesel, Elie: A Jew Today. New York: Random House, 1978.

Wiesel, Elie: Tous les fleuves vont à la mer. Mémoires Vol. 1. Paris: Seuil, 1994.

Wiesel, Elie: All Rivers Run to the Sea. Memoirs, Vol. One 1928–1969. London: HarperCollins, 1996.

Wiesel, Elie: Et la mer n’est pas remplie… Mémoires Vol. 2. Paris: Seuil, 1996.

Wiesel, Elie: And the Sea Is Never Full. Memoirs, 1969–. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

[1] “To begin with, Night is not a novel.” (Elie Wiesel: All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs, Vol. One 1928–1969. London: HarperCollins, 1996, p. 271).