Is Elie Wiesel an Atheist?

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Copyright 2001 by Hugo S. Cunningham

Born (1928) and raised in Sighet (currently Romania), Elie Wiesel was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 with other Hungarian Jews. He barely survived 11 months of "night," but most of his family did not; he helplessly witnessed the death of his father. Admitted by France as a refugee after 1945, he became an international journalist, later an author, and in 1976 a professor at Boston University. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, apparently for giving the Holocaust a global significance, a reference point for judging and condemning all atrocities against humanity.

Is he an atheist? His own experience of horror makes him question Orthodox Jewish belief in an all-powerful yet benevolent God. Nevertheless, he leaves his own question unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable. See, for example, pp. 103-105 in his autobiography,
Elie Wiesel, Memoirs: All Rivers Run to the Sea, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1995.

He wrote and published (1979) The Trial of God, a 3-act "Purimspiel" set in Poland-Lithuania in 1649, at the time of the Khmelnitsky pogroms.
Plot summary: A travelling company of Jewish actors blunder into a Jewish settlement that had recently been wiped out. It is hardly an occasion for the usual joyful and optimistic "Purim" play. Instead, the two surviving townspeople persuade the actors to take part in a mock trial of God, on charges of condoning the massacre of innocent Jews.
Where did Wiesel get the idea for such a play? In the introduction, he writes:
"Inside the kingdom of night [ie. Auschwitz] I witnessed a strange trial. Three rabbis -- all erudite and pious men-- decided one winter evening to indict God for allowing his children to be massacred. I remember. I was there, and I felt like crying. But there nobody cried."

If Wiesel had been a Muslim, such a direct attack on orthodoxy might have earned him a death sentence from some Fundamentalist cleric. But he remains accepted even by Orthodox Jews

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