FAYETTEVILLE —Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has written 57 books in his lifetime, but it’s his 1958 memoir Night that is his most powerful tome and the one most admirers ask him about.
The book describes his experiences as a young man at the infamous concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland. Night spans just over 100 pages, but by way of its intensity and brevity, it has become one of the most influential pieces of Holocaust literature for students worldwide; in over 30 languages, it transcends borders.
Wiesel spoke to a capacity crowd of 1,200-plus students and community members in the Walton Arts Center’s Baum Walker Hall Wednesday (March 7) as part of the University of Arkansas’ student-funded Distinguished Lecture Series. Another 500 people saw his lecture on video streamed to the arts center’s lobby and McBride and Starr theaters. Yet another 250 people listed to audio piped outside the center. Many of them had waited in line outside the center for hours before Wiesel’s lecture.
Wiesel said he believes in the power of education and was thrilled to be speaking to the UA students, among others. “Nothing pleases me more, excites me more or is more rewarding than being with students,” he said, beaming.
In 1986, the year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he and wife Marion formed the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, whose mission is to “…combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality.”
He also received the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Wiesel spoke to the media before his speech, and a 30-minute book signing followed the lecture. Attendees stood in line with the hopes of sharing a word or handshake with one of the most distinguished speakers yet to date.