Elie Wiesel: Holocaust survivor, Israel advocate 1928 – 2016


Elie Wiesel somehow survived the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. For twenty years, he wrote books and articles about his horrific experience, but was basically ignored by American public opinion. That changed in 1967. Read more.

The Ottawa Citizen was only one of many Canadian newspapers who did full page articles on Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, the Romanian-born Holocaust survivor who died on July 2nd at age 87. For more than half a century, Wiesel’s prolific stream of speeches, essays and books emerged from the helplessness of a teenager whose family was deported from Hungary to Auschwitz and later, Buchenwald.

Tattooed with the number A-7713, he was freed in 1945 — but only after his mother, father and one sister had all died. Two other sisters survived.

However, for two decades, Wiesel and other Holocaust survivors were all but ignored in America, which (like Canada) still was under the influence of antisemitism, and which looked on Jewish Israel and its kibbutz movement as a dangerous manifestation of socialism.

Wiesel’s best known book, “Night,” was published in English in the USA in 1960. It was a powerful novel based on the incredible experiences he suffered in Auschwitz.

But in a 2002 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Wiesel recalled that the book attracted little notice at first. “The English translation came out in 1960, and the first printing was 3,000 copies. And it took three years to sell them”.

All that changed after the ’67 war, however. Having handily beaten the Arab states who were supported by the Soviet Union, Israel became almost overnight an important American ally. Suddenly, talk about the Holocaust and the need to defend Israel against the Arabs became fashionable. Wiesel was wined and dined across the USA. He was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

KZ Mauthausen, Sowjetische Kriegsgefangene

Its difficult to imagine the horrors people like Wiesel and others experienced. Here a group of starving Spanish republicans at the Mauthausen slave labour camp in Austria. My recent visit left me shaken.

Wiesel came out of his Holocaust experience with a fierce determination to see that nothing similar could ever happen to Jews again. Its easy to understand why.

Unfortunately, as many of his critics have pointed out, this led him to a blind fixation on defending Israel, and ignoring the evils that the new State of Israel was inflicting on the Palestinian population – which had had nothing to do with the Holocaust.

 “As a child of Holocaust survivors—both my parents survived Auschwitz—I am appalled by your anti-Palestinian position, one I know you have long held. I have always wanted to ask you, why? What crime have Palestinians committed in your eyes?” wondered Harvard University professor Sara Roy.

“Those who explored the depths of the Holocaust were a great and deeply flawed generation”, wrote Jewish theologian Mark Ellis on hearing of Wiesel’s passing. “With reference to their hawkish stands on Israel, Wiesel and other Holocaust commentators simply did not understand what they had become involved in. Once an insurgent in Jewish life by insisting on the overriding importance of the Holocaust, in his later years, Wiesel became a cheerleader for an apartheid Israel and American military sanctions and intervention in the Middle East, all revolving around his support for Israel,” continued Ellis.

wiesel nobel

In his remarks at the 1986 Nobel prize giving ceremony, Wiesel had this to say. “Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” 

Ironically, and tragically, Wiesel himself remained silent in the face of the suffering and humiliation inflicted by Israeli Jews on the Palestinians.


Comments? I see a positive and a negative side to Wiesel. I admire his determination to force the west to remember the horrors of the Holocaust, especially in the first 20 years when few wanted to listen. But I profoundly regret that his tunnel vision made him unable to feel any sympathy for the Palestinians. Disagree? Let me know.




  1. Wiesel was an interesting study in contradictions

    Addressing the German Parliament, Elie Wiesel, who because of his traumatizing experience in Auschwitz, was always a strong defender of Israel, said something that Israel needs to remember.

    “Ich glaube nicht an Kollektivschuld.” Denn: “Die Kinder der Mörder sind keine Mörder, sondern Kinder.”

    Translation: “I do not believe in collective guilt because the children of murderers are not murderers, they are children”.

    With these words he told the descendants of Nazis that he did not blame them for what the Nazis did but he should have been telling Israelis that they should not be destroying the homes of the relatives of people that they considered criminals. As far as I know, he never objected to the way that Palestinians were being treated by Israel. He seemed to be blind to what was happening.

    Every act that the Israelis consider Terrorism (never an act by an Israeli Jew) results in their announcing that they will destroy the home of a terrorist. When they do that, they ignore what Dr, Wiesel told to the Bundestag.

    Collective Punishment does not stop terrorism; it is terrorism and it creates new terrorists.

    Dave Parnas

    1. First off you are wrong that Israel never charges Jews with terrorism. The 6 civilians and 1 soldier from Nahliel who firebombed the Palestinian’s home were charged with terrorism just 2 months ago.

      As for teh rest of your comment I think the Geneva Convention here confusing collective punishment with an extended individual punishment. Generally the goal of collective punishment is to terrorize a civilian population into not supporting a resistance movement. It is fundamentally political. Generally the goal of individual punishment is to deter others from performing a similar act, it is fundamental normative criminal justice. Extended individual punishments where the family is punished work against highly motivated criminals with strong familial ties. The classic executing the children of traitors, worked because while men might themselves be willing to risk death they valued their children enough not to risk them.

      Israel is dealing with highly motivated criminals (terrorists) who know they most likely will die during their attack. How does one further deter such people?

      As for collective punishment not stopping terrorism. I think there is overwhelming evidence of the opposite. Much counter-terrorism and anti-terrorism depend on forms of collective punishment (though they often don’t call it that).

      1. Under the geneva conventions Israeli actions are collective punishment. There is no notion of extended individual punishment.

        What evidence do you have that collective punishment works. You must have a lot of good sources you can share since you claim the evidence is overwhelming. Opinion pieces are not evidence.

      2. Btw…. There was no question in regards to suggesting that Israel doesn’t charge Jewish Israelis with terrorism. What was said is that their houses aren’t destroyed.

      3. I respectfully submit the authors of the 4th Geneva Convention would have a very take on the provisions of the Convention regarding collective punishment than you advocate. As for your statement,” I think there is overwhelming evidence of the opposite. Much counter-terrorism and anti-terrorism depend on forms of collective punishment that collective punishment.” I have never seen any independent evidence that collective punishment works.

        Notwithstanding a statistical analysis, I believe collective punishment is morally and ethically wrong. Punishment within the Judeo-Christian tradition is rooted in the principle of the perpetrator being an individual moral agent who is alone responsible for his/her actions. In other words, punishment is not meant to be shared by the broader community. Further the Jewish principal of, “an eye for an eye”, was meant to limit the response to violence.

        I witnessed flagrant disregard of International Human Rights laws and International Humanitarian laws by the Israel military on a daily basis as a Human Rights observer in Palestine. I also witnessed Israel’s contempt of the rulings of the International Court of Justice rulings and Security Council resolutions regarding settlements and the wall.Therein I support the arguments of Marc Ellis in regard to Elie Wiesel.

        Violence only begets violence. State sponsored terrorism only begets terrorism in response.

  2. @Anonymous

    There was no question in regards to suggesting that Israel doesn’t charge Jewish Israelis with terrorism. What was said is that their houses aren’t destroyed.

    The line was:
    Every act that the Israelis consider Terrorism (never an act by an Israeli Jew)

    Yes the written claim was that there were no acts Israeli Jews committed that would be considered Terrorism by Israelis. The house demolition was just given as the punishment for terrorism.

  3. @oldgeezer

    It is a little odd to be debating the effectiveness of collective punishment with a BDSer. The whole idea of BDS is to utilize collective punishment against Israel to change their political opinions and behaviors. The whole idea of war as a policy mechanism is based on collective punishment to change behavior, which goes back quite literally millions of years.

    If you want a specific citation:
    Levinson, Daryl J. 2003. “Collective Sanctions.” Stanford Law Review 56: 345-428 covers the basics and shows how groups control members when outside forces act against them.

    Eric S. Dickson of New York University conducted experiments and found that collective incentives were about 40% as effective as individual incentives in learning (On the (in) effectiveness of collective punishment: An experimental investigation)

    Pamila Oliver (Rewards and Punishments as Selective Incentives for Collective Action: Theoretical Investigations) showed quite effectively how anti-busing activists used collective punishment to intimidate whites who were otherwise inclined to participate….

    I could keep listing citations but the point is rather obvious and moreover shouldn’t be a point of dispute with a BDS advocate.

  4. @cd-host

    You had to split the sentence in two which destroys it’s context. Can you provide a list of Jewish terrorist acts which have resulted in the demolition of their homes?

    Collective punishment is a legal construct defined in the Geneva Conventions and BDS clearly does not qualify as a form of collective punishment. It is disingenuous to substitute a plain English construct for a legal term.

    Your shorter response to my request for information showing that collective punishment is effective in the fight against terrorism could have been no. Neither of your recitations deal with terrorism and one of your citations (assuming you stated the results correctly) shows that it is not even half as effective asdealing with the individual. Not a resounding endorsement to say the least.

    1. @oldgeezer —

      The 4th Geneva Convention defines collective punishment as, “punishing an individual for an offense he or she has not personally committed”. That is the common English definition of the term. The construct is the same. And yes BDS meets that definition. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Commentary explicitly talks about how collective punishment that the authors had in mind is, “”intimidatory measures to terrorize the population in hopes of preventing hostile acts”. Which I should mention of course implies that such measures help prevent hostile acts. And it is the case that the Geneva convention in court situations is generally limited to:
      a) reprisal killings
      b) pillage
      But of course if you use that definition then house demolitions are not collective punishment either.

      Second 40% of the effectiveness of individual punishment is enormously effective. Harsh individual punishments are close to 100% effective in discouraging undesirable behaviors or inducing desired behaviors. The multi trillion dollar advertising industry operates in the 2-3% range. That is to say collective punishment could be a 1/10th as effective as it is and still be more effective than advertising, which is so heavily and routinely utilized because of how effective it is.

      Moreover in this particular case as I mentioned we are already dealing with individuals who understand that in terms of individual punishment they are highly likely to die in their attempt at terrorism. So the whole point of home demolitions is to raise the threshold above individual punishment because the Israelis can’t do any more individual punishment than they are doing.

  5. @cd-host

    The 4th Geneva convention details the rights of defined protected persons during times of war.

    Your replies are extremely disingenuous and there is little point in continuing.

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