Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel to speak at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts


Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and author who has devoted his life to helping oppressed people, will present the Fleet Bank Lecture in Judaic Studies, a program of the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies, on Tuesday, April 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Fairfield University. The lecture, entitled "The Urgency of Hope," is sponsored by Fleet Bank in conjunction with the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies and Open VISIONS Forum, both of Fairfield University. The lecture is sold out.

Wiesel is a tireless fighter of injustice around the globe, a world he sees as having no boundaries. "Sometimes we must interfere," Wiesel has said. "When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe."

Wiesel's compassion and high moral standards hark back to his childhood in Sighet, Transylvania, now part of Romania. Born Sept. 30, 1928, he was a devout Jew, reading and re-reading the Torah and other religious texts, sometimes with his beloved grandfather, a Hasidic Jew. His mother continued the training, taking him to Hasidic masters and introducing him to Hasidic writings.

In the spring of 1944, Wiesel, then 15, and his family were deported by the Nazis to the concentration camp Auschwitz. His mother and one of his three sisters died there. Wiesel and his father were moved to another concentration camp, Buchenwald, where his father perished. Wiesel was liberated in April, 1945, having lost half his family in a year.

For years, Wiesel remained silent on the horrors of the death camps. He studied in Paris and became a journalist. During an interview with French writer François Mauriac, Wiesel spoke of some of the atrocities and Mauriac persuaded him to end his silence. Wiesel wrote "La Nuit" (Night), a seminal book that shone light on one of the world's darkest hours and was among the first works to refer to the events that took place as "the Holocaust."

Published in 1958, "Night" has been translated into 25 languages and has been read by millions around the world.

Since finding his exquisite voice, Wiesel has written more than 40 books, including the award-winning "A Beggar in Jerusalem," "The Testament" and "The Fifth Son." Many of his works deal with religion, morality and dignity and are written in the form of memoirs, novels, essays, dialogues, traditional stories and plays.

Wiesel's work has not gone unnoticed. Hailed by The New York Times as "one of the great writers of this generation," he has received many top international prizes and honors, including the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. He holds the rank of Grand Officer in the French Legion of Honor and earned a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and a Medal of Liberty award. He holds two National Jewish Book Awards, the Four Freedoms Award and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. Wiesel has been awarded more than 90 honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning, including Fairfield University, where he was a commencement speaker.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Wiesel, an American citizen since 1963, as chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust. Two years later, he became the founding chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. He is also the founding president of the Paris-based Universal Academy of Cultures.

A devoted supporter of Israel, Wiesel has also spoken out to defend the cause of Soviet Jews, Nicaragua's Miskito Indians, Argentina's "Disappeared," Cambodian refugees, the Kurds, South African apartheid victims, famine victims in Africa and victims and prisoners in the former Yugoslavia.

Three months after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Wiesel and his wife, Marion, established The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, hoping to advance human rights and peace and create a forum for discussion of urgent ethical issues. The foundation has sponsored several major conferences for world leaders, Nobel laureates and young people around the world.

In addition to his humanitarian work, Wiesel has had a long career in higher education. He has taught at City University of New York and Yale University and has been the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University since 1976. He teaches through the Department of Religion and the Department of Philosophy.

Wiesel has said delving into great books and teaching are among his greatest joys.

"Generation after generation there were people who left clues, and you are there to collect them and, at one point, you understand something that you hadn't understood before. That is a reward, and as a teacher I do the same thing," he told an interviewer in 1997. "When I realize there is a student there, in the corner, who understands, there is a flicker in the eye. That is the greatest reward that a teacher can receive."

The Fleet Foundation, which provides support for hundreds of not-for-profit organizations doing outstanding work in Connecticut, is sponsoring Elie Wiesel's lecture.

The lecture is sold out. For more information, call the Quick Center box office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396 or visit the website, www.quickcenter.com.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on March 5, 2003

Vol. 35, No. 224