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Elie Wiesel (1928–2016)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum deeply mourns the passing of Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel laureate, and international leader of the Holocaust remembrance movement.  In the aftermath of the Holocaust, at a time when the world could not bear to remember, he could not bear to forget. Through his singular moral leadership, intellect, and eloquence, he gave voice to those who had been silenced forever and devoted his life to fulfilling the promise of “never again” for all future victims of genocide. The Nobel Committee described him as a “messenger to mankind.” He was one of the few whose message was not just delivered, but heard. To the end of his days, he mourned that it had yet to inspire the action he envisioned.

His impact endures in his brilliant writings, the students he taught, the millions of lives he touched, and in a building in the heart of the capital of the free world, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where he was the founding father. “Today, the Museum and the cause of Holocaust remembrance are taken for granted. Only a few know of the long struggle that was required,” said Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield.

The publication of Night in 1956 was a watershed, placing Elie Wiesel’s personal memories into our public conscience. That helped spawn global awareness and a remembrance movement. Then in 1978, President Carter appointed Wiesel to chair the President’s Commission on the Holocaust whose mandate was to explore the creation of an American national memorial to the Holocaust. Recognizing that memory alone was not enough; the commission boldly called for an educational institution, standing in contrast to our monuments to freedom and our museums to human achievement.  Wiesel envisioned a “living memorial” that would forever serve as a warning about the fragility of democracy and the dangers of unchecked hatred. 

“I believe firmly and profoundly that anyone who listens to a Witness becomes a Witness, so those who hear us, those who read us must continue to bear witness for us. Until now, they’re doing it with us. At a certain point in time, they will do it for all of us. ”
— Elie Wiesel

As founding Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council appointed in 1980, he led its efforts to conceive and construct the Museum.  His vision defined its mission, as he firmly believed that a memorial unresponsive to the future would violate the memory of the past. He served on the Museum’s Council as an appointment of Presidents Carter, Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Obama.

Never afraid to confront power with truth, in 1985 he criticized President Reagan for visiting the Bitburg Cemetery in Germany where members of the SS were buried.  In 1993, as he dedicated the Museum, he spoke of his mother’s life and death and, invoking her memory and the failure of the world to save her, he called on President Clinton to confront ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. 

“The world feels incomplete with the loss of Elie Wiesel,” said Museum Chairman Tom A. Bernstein. “He was a transformative figure who exemplified the very ideals that the Museum encourages all to aspire to—that memory calls us to action. We all bear the tremendous responsibility to carry on his legacy.”

The President's Commission on the Holocaust In 1978 President Carter appointed Elie Wiesel to explore the creation of an American national memorial to the Holocaust. Learn more

Elie Wiesel Timeline and World Events: 1928–1951 At the age of 15, Elie Wiesel and his family were deported to Auschwitz. His parents and younger sister perished, and he and his two older sisters survived. Learn more