Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel died on Saturday at the age of 87 after a prolonged illness.
A survivor of the Auschwitz and Buchenwald Nazi death camps, Wiesel dedicated much of his life to Holocaust education and promoting tolerance around the world.
The Romanian-born Wiesel authored 57 books, including “Night,” a memoir published in 1955 in which he recounted the deaths of his father, mother and sister in Nazi camps.
When he was a teenager, Wiesel was sent with his father, Shlomo, to the Buna Werke labor camp, a sub-camp of Auschwitz III-Monowitz. They were forced to work for eight months before being transferred to a series of other concentration camps near the war’s end. Wiesel survived whereas his father was beaten to death in 1945 by a German soldier.
The recipient of over 100 honorary doctorates, Wiesel received France’s distinguished Prix Medicis for his 1968 book “A Beggar in Jerusalem,” describing the Jewish response to the reunification of Jerusalem following the Six-Day War.
He also received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the rank of Grand-Croix in France’s Legion of Honor, and he was knighted as Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his role in speaking out against violence, repression and racism.
In 2013, he received the Israeli presidential medal awarded to him by then president Shimon Peres.
He had long served as a professor of Judaic studies and the humanities in the United States.
Soon after he won the Nobel prize, Wiesel and his wife Marion founded The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity with a mission to “combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality”.
Wiesel traveled back to Auschwitz in 2006 with US talk show host Oprah Winfrey. He also accompanied US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on a tour of the Buchenwald camp.
In 2007 Wiesel was attacked by a Holocaust denier. Although he was not injured, Wiesel’s attacker was arrested and sent to prison.
Throughout his life and career, Wiesel continued to speak out for victims of oppression all over the world.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday called Wiesel “a beacon of light” in the “darkness” of the Holocaust and said the State of Israel and the Jewish world were “shedding bitter tears” over his passing.
“Elie, the wordsmith, expressed through his extraordinary personality and fascinating books the triumph of the human spirit over cruelty and evil. Throughout the dark period of the Holocaust, in which our six million brethren perished, Elie Weisel was a beacon of light and an example of humanity that believes in man’s inherent good,” he said.
“I am grateful for the privilege of knowing Elie and of learning so much from him,” Netanyahu added in a statement.
President Reuven Rivlin said Wiesel was a “hero of the Jewish people, and a giant of all humanity.”
Rivlin called him “one of the Jewish people’s greatest sons, who touched the hearts of so many, and helped us to believe in forgiveness, in life, and in the eternal bond of the Jewish people. May his memory be a blessing, everlastingly engraved in the heart of the nation.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder also eulogized Wiesel, calling him “a beacon of light” and said the Jewish world “owes him an enormous debt of gratitude.”
“Today, Jews and non-Jews around the world mourn a man who was undoubtedly one of the great Jewish teachers and thinkers of the past 100 years. His passing leaves a void that will be impossible to fill. At the same time, his writings will live on,” Lauder said.
Peres said “Wiesel left his mark on humanity through preserving and upholding the legacy of the Holocaust and delivering a message of peace and respect between people worldwide.”
Said Natan and Avital Sharansky: “Elie Wiesel was the collective moral compass of the Jewish people. He was the first to break the silence surrounding the plight of Soviet Jewry, and he accompanied our struggle until we achieved victory. We will miss him deeply.”
JTA and AFP contributed to this report.