Page 65 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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FINE / WIESEL'S LITERARY LEGACY
59
to un ite the language o f man with the silence o f the dead”
(.AJew
Today).
During those ten years o f silence he lived in France, hav­
ing been brough t there after the war by a ch ild ren ’s aid organiza­
tion. He studied French with the philosopher, Frangois Wahl,
took courses at the Sorbonne and ea rned a living as a tu to r in
Hebrew, Yiddish and the Bible. From 1948 on, he became a fo r­
eign co rresponden t for the Israeli newspaper,
Yediot Aharonot,
and the French jou rna l ,
L ’Arche,
traveling widely to Africa, India,
and Palestine where he repo rted on the struggle for independ ­
ence. He came to New York in 1956 to repo r t on the United
Nations for the Israeli pape r and a year later became a staff writer
for the
Jewish Daily Forward.
In 1963 Wiesel was granted U.S. citi­
zenship. He presently lives in New York with his Viennese-born
wife, Marion and his son, Shlomo, born in 1972. In addition to
being a writer and lecturer, Wiesel is also a teacher. Since 1976 he
has been Andrew Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston
University. In 1979 he was appointed Chairman o f the U.S. Holo­
caust Memorial Council, and two years later became Honorary
Chairman o f the World Gathering o f Jewish Holocaust Survivors
in Jerusalem .
Ju s t as Wiesel chose not to be repa triated to his hometown and
did not re tu rn for twenty years, he also decided not to write books
in Yiddish, his m o ther tongue. Adopting French as his literary
language was the survivor’s way o f distancing himself from the
painful past. Hebrew and Yiddish evoked emotional memories o f
his childhood, whereas Hungarian was the tongue o f his opp res­
sors. French offered him a refuge, £ new beginning, a new possi­
bility. It was like opening the door to a house tha t would provide
him with the philosophical, literary and intellectual framework
with which to build upon the Holocaust ruins. Wiesel also felt that
to express the mystical notions o f Juda ism in a Cartesian
language, imbued with logic and reason, was a challenge. In
effect, he succeeded in fusing the two cultures, blending French
existentialist and humanist concepts with talmudic and hasidic
teachings. French critics have characterized his style as tha t o f a
poet who transforms words into visions and molds legends ou t of
history. His early writings have been compared to those o f Albert
Camus whose own idea o f the writer as witness to his times was to
greatly influence Wiesel.
It was not, however, until Wiesel met the French Catholic
riter, Francois Mauriac in 1954 that he used his newly acquired