Berger, the chair for Holocaust Studies at Florida Atlantic University, recounts Wiesel’s 1928 early life in the small Romanian village of Sighet in the Carpathian Mountains and how his father urged Eliezer to read the world’s classic literature while his mother pressed him to engage in intensive Torah study in the broadest sense of the term. That parental combination shaped Wiesel’s career as a gifted author who wrote in French and English (neither was his native language) while being fully anchored in both Hebrew and Yiddish.
Wiesel survived the Shoah as a teenage prisoner at two infamous Nazi German death camps: Auschwitz in Poland and Buchenwald in Germany. His immediate family was shattered during the Holocaust. Both his parents and one of Wiesel’s three sisters were murdered. When World War II ended, the orphan made his way to Paris, learned French and began a career as a journalist. In 1949 Wiesel became the Paris correspondent for the Israel newspaper Yediot Ahronot.
A major turning point in Wiesel’s life occurred in 1954, when he interviewed Francois Mauriac, the Catholic Nobel Prize winner for literature. Mauriac urged the young survivor to write about his death camp experiences.