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A Moral Fabulist

Truth and Fiction in Elie Wiesel’s “Night”

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

A couple of weeks ago Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and self-appointed moral conscience for Holocaust survivors, praised the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes to make way for yet more illegal settlements in Jerusalem. His chilling statement ran in an ad placed in Ha’aretz. Here are Wiesel’s appalling words:

“As Sukkot begins, we are thrilled to bless the tens of new families joining us at this time in the Jewish settlement in the City of David. We salute the Zionist action in Jerusalem of those involved. Strengthening the Jewish presence in Jerusalem is a challenge that we all face and with this act of settlement you are raising our stature. Together with you we will receive the pilgrims, the holiday visitors. We value and cherish you.”

Though Wiesel offers himself as a paragon of moral virtue, the truth is somewhat seamier. As detailed in this myth-shattering piece by Alexander Cockburn from the February 2006 print edition of CounterPunch, Wiesel assiduously campaigned for the Nobel Prize and has for decades tried to pass off his short book “Night” as a true account–a “testimony” in his words– of his experiences at Auschwitz, even though key scenes in the book have been exposed as fiction.
–Jeffrey St. Clair

When in trouble, head for Auschwitz, preferably in the company of Elie Wiesel. It’s as foolproof a character reference as is available today, at least within the Judeo-Christian sphere of moral influence. One can easily see why Oprah Winfrey and her advisers saw an Auschwitz excursion in the company of Wiesel as a sure-fire antidote to salve the wounds sustained by Oprah’s Book Club when it turned out that James Frey had faked significant slabs of his own supposedly autobiographical saga of moral regeneration, A Million Little Pieces

Published in 2003, Frey’s irksome book swiftly became a cult classic. (The present author was offered it in the summer of 2004 by a young relative, presumably to assist in his moral regeneration, but after glancing through a few pages returned it, on the grounds that it wasn’t his kind of thing.) Winfrey picked it for her Book Club in September 2005, and it rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists.

For Frey the sky fell in when, on January 7, 2006, the Smoking Gun website published documents showing that Frey had fabricated many facts about himself, including a criminal record. There were later charges of plagiarism. Frey ran through a benign gauntlet of trial-by-Larry King on January 11, and Oprah called in to stand by her Pick of the Month. She said that what mattered was not whether Frey’s book was true (the Fundamentalist claim for the Holy Bible) but its value as a therapeutic tool...

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