» Elie Wiesel Bust

“I have tried to keep memory alive; I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices…and that is why I swore never to be silent whenever wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”

- Elie Wiesel

Critical Essay By
Dr. Marilyn Harran

Professor, Director, Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education
Stern Chair in Holocaust Education
Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; Department of Religious Studies
View Bio

Author and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel most valued the title of “teacher.” Recipient of an honorary doctorate from Chapman University in 2005, Wiesel was a Presidential Fellow at the University from 2011 until his death in 2016. His memoir of the Holocaust, Night (La Nuit), gained international acclaim and was followed by almost 60 works of fiction and non-fiction. As educator, activist, and Founding Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wiesel believed we must reject indifference and affirm our responsibility to memory, for, as he wrote, “if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.” 

Elie Wiesel first spoke at Chapman University on April 11, 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of his liberation from the Buchenwald concentration camp. He returned to campus in 2010 to dedicate the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library, named in honor of Holocaust survivors and parents of entrepreneur and philanthropist, Henry Samueli. As a Presidential Fellow, Wiesel spent a week on campus each spring meeting with students in various disciplines, from music to religious studies to history and French. For Chapman students, these were unforgettable and transformative experiences.  Wiesel especially loved to hear students’ questions and he encouraged them to seek questions rather than answers throughout their lives, asserting that it is our questions that unite us whereas our answers often divide us.

Born in Sighet, Transylvania, now part of Romania, Elie Wiesel was deeply religious, as a young boy studying the Hebrew scriptures and even mystical texts. His schooling was brought to an abrupt end by the Holocaust and the displacement of his family first to a ghetto and then to Auschwitz. His mother and younger sister, Tzipora, to whom he was especially devoted, were murdered at Auschwitz. Wiesel and his father survived that camp and a brutal death march in freezing weather that eventually took them to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Wiesel’s father died only a few months before the camp was liberated. Wiesel’s experiences in the Holocaust forever changed him. In one of the most memorable passages in Night, he reports his experience after liberation when he saw himself in a mirror for the first time in years: “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.”

After experiencing so much suffering and loss in his life, Wiesel might have become embittered and disillusioned with humanity, but such was not the case. Instead, Wiesel affirmed life and celebrated its joys, particularly his marriage to Marion Erster Rose in 1969 and the birth of his son, Elisha, in 1972. He also determined to do whatever he could to prevent others from experiencing what he had.

After the war, Wiesel studied in Paris and became a journalist. One of the people he interviewed, distinguished French writer, Francois Mauriac, urged Wiesel to write of his Holocaust experiences. The result was La Nuit (Night), first published in 1958. That book, translated into dozens of languages, was followed by works of fiction and non-fiction, including A Beggar in Jerusalem which received the Prix Médicis, and two volumes of memoirs, All Rivers Run to the Sea and The Sea is Never Full. His final book, written after major heart surgery, was Open Heart, published in 2012.

Wiesel came to the United States as a foreign correspondent in 1956 and in 1963 became a United States citizen. He began his teaching career in 1972 at the City University of New York and in 1976 became the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Boston University. While remaining focused on writing and teaching, Wiesel became an activist on behalf of human rights and Jewish causes. He pressed the Soviet government to allow its Jewish citizens to emigrate to Israel, opposed apartheid in South Africa, and urged President Clinton to intervene to stop mass murder in the former Yugoslavia. He also advocated for Holocaust education and remembrance, arguing that forgetfulness would result in yet more suffering and death.  In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Wiesel Chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and in 1980 he became the Founding Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. Wiesel’s words are engraved by the entrance to the Museum: “For the living and the dead we must remember.”

In 1985, at a White House ceremony where he was to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, Wiesel sought to persuade then President Ronald Reagan not to visit the Bitburg military cemetery where members of the Waffen SS were buried. Generally, however, Wiesel preferred to pursue quiet diplomacy behind the scenes with world leaders. Wiesel’s religious faith guided every aspect of his life. He was devoted to his family, his students, and Jewish and Israeli causes. At times criticized for his unfailing commitment to Israel, Wiesel sought to balance his love of Jerusalem and Israel with his profound dedication to human rights, stating in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere. . . Both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people have lost too many sons and daughters and have shed too much blood.”  

Wiesel received more than 100 honorary degrees and dozens of awards. He particularly valued the Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor, since it was to an orphanage in France that Wiesel, along with other young survivors of Buchenwald, was sent after his liberation from Buchenwald. He wrote most of his books in French, a language he associated with freedom and the generosity of those who welcomed him after the war.

In 1986, Wiesel received the Nobel Prize for Peace. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, and the National Humanities Medal, among many others. Most recently, in 2021, a stone carving of Elie Wiesel was added to the Human Rights Porch at the National Cathedral where his likeness joins those of Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Bishop Oscar Romero, among others.

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View the map locations of the Collection of Historical Figures statues located throughout the Chapman campuses.

Elie Wiesel bust


Gary and Hildee Brahm, Jim and Lynne Doti, Marilyn Harran, Ralph and Sue Stern

Stern Chair in Holocaust Education

Miriam Baker

Campus Location
Leatherby Libraries, Orange Campus