The world we are living in is cruel, ruthless and unjust. Looking back at the history, or even looking at the things that happen every day in different parts of the world, we see how shaky our world and our lives, in particular, may be. Many people when seeing the cruelty of the world, ask the question “why?”. Those who believe in God, choose to trust that the troubles of the present world are a part of a divine plan and that those suffering now will be rewarded in the world to come. Others, who do not believe in God, blame the cruelty of the world on the God’s absence. In times of losses, desolation and despair people undergo fundamental changes, many changes to the extent that they cannot normally react to the world anymore. In my paper, I would like to talk about a person who has gone through hell, though managed to survive and improve the lives of others who had to struggle the way he did. The name of this person is Elie Wiesel – a famous writer and Nobel Prize winner. Lower I would like to provide the biographical information of the author as well as I will present his literary works and their essential topics.
Elie Wiesel was born in the small town of Sighet in Romania on September 30th, 1929.
The little town, however, was the intersection of different people and cultures. Situated in Romania the town, of course, inhabited Romanians, though, together with Romanians in Sighet lived Russians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, and many traditional observant Jews. All the mentioned groups of people had lived in Sighet side by side for centuries. There had been conflicts. However, all in all, the “borough” lived peacefully. The non-Jewish population of the town was used to living next to the Jews, and the Jews there could exercise the religion freely.
Wiesel’s mother was a descendant of a famous Chassidic dynasty, while his father was rather less observant. The language spoken in the family was Yiddish. However, as the town consisted of a mixture of people from different countries, from early childhood Elie could speak such languages as Hungarian, Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian and German.
When Elie was three years old his mother insisted that he went to the Jewish religious school for boys to begin receiving the religious education. While his mother encouraged Elie to concentrate on the Torah studies, his father was pointing out the importance Modern Hebrew language and secular studies. As for Elie, from early years he enjoyed reading both secular and religious books and was taking in any piece of knowledge he could get.
During the first years of the World War II Sighet was relatively untouched, however, over the course of these years the town was taken over by Hungary. Still, having changed the hands, the inhabitants of Sighet were untouched. Thus they thought they were safe for the rest of the war. The Jews of the borough believed that they would never have to deal with what the Jews have to go through in Poland or Germany. However, they were wrong. In 1944 the first Nazis arrived in Sighet and immediately deported all the Jewish population of the town to concentration camps in Poland. Upon arrival to Auschwitz Elie, who was fifteen at that time, was immediately separated from his mother and sister. He never saw them again.
Elie and his father worked side by side for the next year. They had to work until death; they starved, they were beaten, and shuttled from camp to camp on foot, or in open cattle wagons, in driving snow, with no food, proper shoes, or clothes. In the last months of the war, Wiesel’s father passed away, leaving Elie, absolutely alone in the world. However, having come to France as an asylum after the war, Elie learned that his two older sisters had survived the war. In France, Elie Wiesel mastered the French language and took on studying philosophy at the Sorbonne. After the university he became a professional journalist, writing for newspapers in France and Israel. However, for ten years, he observed a self-imposed vow of silence and wrote nothing about his war experience.
In 1956 a very important event happened in Wiesel’s life. Wiesel was in New York covering the United Nations when he was hit by the cab when crossing the street. The injuries were severe; the operation lasted for ten hours. The doctors did their best. However, Wiesel still had to spend a year in a wheelchair. During the year in the wheelchair, Wiesel obtained the U.S. citizenship and became a feature writer for the Yiddish newspaper called the Jewish Daily Forward. That was the time when he published his first book, a Yiddish memoir entitled And the World Was Silent; it was published in Argentina. Two years later a much smaller version of the work was published in France as La Nuit (Night). This first work was soon followed by the two sequels: the Dawn, and the Accident.
The above books won Elie Wiesel an international reputation. As a result, Wiesel took an increasing interest in the troubles of mistreated Jews in the Soviet Union. He first traveled to the USSR in 1965 and talked about his travels in The Jews of Silence. His account of the Six Day Arab – Israel War was presented in a book A Beggar In Jerusalem. After a while, Wiesel started to use his fame and wealth to appeal for justice for oppressed people in the Soviet Union, South Africa, Vietnam and Bangladesh. He has written plays including Zalmen, or the Madness of God and the Trial of God. His other novels include The Gates of the Forest, the Oath, The Testament, and The Fifth Son. His essays and short stories are collected in the volumes Legends of Our Time, One Generation After, and A Jew Today.
Wiesel, in addition to his literary activities, played an important role as a public speaker. Each year he gave lectures on Jewish tradition at New York City’s 92nd Street Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Elie Wiesel Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. In 1985 he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom and, in 1986, the Nobel Prize for Peace. Since 1976, he has also been Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities at Boston University.
Above you could see a very short list of the literary works, Elie Wiesel has created as well as a brief list of his positions and awards. Lower, I would like to take a closer look at the topics that dominate all of the Wiesel’s works because, without them, the figure of Elie Wiesel cannot be understood. It is obvious that Wiesel’s works deal with the memories of the Jewish tragedy – the Holocaust. However, it is important to say that only in Night Wiesel speaks about the Holocaust directly. Throughout other books, the Holocaust looms as the shadow, a central, though unspoken mystery in the lives of the characters. Even when describing the pre-Holocaust events, Wiesel shows that there are warnings of impending disaster and the characters feel that the unavoidable catastrophe is coming.
The question of faith can be considered to be the major question in Wiesel’s work. Lower I would like to show how Wiesel’s attitude towards God had changed over the years. We see that Wiesel thought of God before and during the Holocaust as both the protector and punisher of the Jewish people. Whatever happened before the Holocaust, even if it was bad, he could explain as “the God’s will that is done for the good,” moreover, as he shows in his book Night, the Jews believed that God would never harm them – that was the opinion Wiesel also held. He continued to believe in it, even when the situation got worse. Wiesel notes, “Our optimism remained unshakable. It was simply a question of holding out for a few days…Once again the God of Abraham would save his people, as always, at the last moment, when all seemed lost.’’ (Legends of Our Time, 25). Though, God did not save the people…
In the camps, Wiesel’s faith was not shaken immediately, or even quickly. Even when he saw that thousands of people were slaughtered in front of his eyes, he believed there was a higher divine purpose of that. Wiesel could not doubt God; it was too hard for him. But sooner or later, he had to realize that the people were suffering and God was not going to stop it. That was the time God stopped to exist for Wiesel (Night, p. 31, p. 65). Still, God did not die for him, and we see how it reflects in his works. Wiesel is angry at the God who is cruel and is showing it in his work, later, when the anger vanished Wiesel starts to revalue God’s role in the world. In the end, Elie Wiesel comes to the conclusion that from now on, the God is different, he does not have a plan, people cannot rely on him, while who the people can rely on, is only themselves.
Elie Wiesel is a classic of Holocaust literature and a hero of the Jewish nation. Though, it is important to remember that Elie Wiesel is not only the pride of the Jewish nation but also of the whole world. His contribution to the world peace and stability cannot be estimated, and his achievements cannot be all written down. In my opinion, Elie Wiesel biggest contribution is that with his works, he did not let the people forget of what had happened in the Holocaust .
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