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The Jews of Silence: A Personal Report on Soviet Jewry [NOOK Book]


In the fall of 1965 the Israeli newspaper Haaretz sent a young journalist named Elie Wiesel to the Soviet Union to report on the lives of Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain. “I would approach Jews who had never been placed in the Soviet show window by Soviet authorities,” wrote Wiesel. “They alone, in their anonymity, could describe the conditions under which they live; they alone could tell whether the reports I had heard were true or false—and whether their children and their grandchildren, despite ...

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The Jews of Silence: A Personal Report on Soviet Jewry

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In the fall of 1965 the Israeli newspaper Haaretz sent a young journalist named Elie Wiesel to the Soviet Union to report on the lives of Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain. “I would approach Jews who had never been placed in the Soviet show window by Soviet authorities,” wrote Wiesel. “They alone, in their anonymity, could describe the conditions under which they live; they alone could tell whether the reports I had heard were true or false—and whether their children and their grandchildren, despite everything, still wish to remain Jews. From them I would learn what we must do to help . . . or if they want our help at all.”
What he discovered astonished him: Jewish men and women, young and old, in Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad, Vilna, Minsk, and Tbilisi, completely cut off from the outside world, overcoming their fear of the ever-present KGB to ask Wiesel about the lives of Jews in America, in Western Europe, and, most of all, in Israel. They have scant knowledge of Jewish history or current events; they celebrate Jewish holidays at considerable risk and with only the vaguest ideas of what these days commemorate. “Most of them come [to synagogue] not to pray,” Wiesel writes, “but out of a desire to identify with the Jewish people—about whom they know next to nothing.” Wiesel promises to bring the stories of these people to the outside world. And in the home of one dissident, he is given a gift—a Russian-language translation of Night, published illegally by the underground. “‘My God,’ I thought, ‘this man risked arrest and prison just to make my writing available to people here!’ I embraced him with tears in my eyes.”

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

When first published in 1966, The Jews of Silence touched Western readers with Elie Wiesel's eyewitness account of the perilous position of Jews in Soviet Russia. This revised and expanded edition contains two chapters written after his trips in 1966 and 1972; a new preface; and an afterword by Martin Gilbert describing the state of Russian Jewry in the past twenty years. A historic milestone.

From the Publisher
“One passionate outcry, both in content and in style.”
—Isaac Bashevis Singer , The New York Times Book Review

“While all religions survive precariously in the Soviet Union, Judaism struggles against singular oppression . . . Wiesel does not portray a self-pitying Soviet Jewry. Rather, he stresses the indomitable strength of their belief. His most moving images focus on the students, who by all laws of logic should have spiritually vanished into the mainstream of Mother Russia long ago.”
The Christian Science Monitor  
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805242973
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/16/2011
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 128
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. The author of more than fifty internationally acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, he is Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and University Professor at Boston University.

From the Trade Paperback edition.


"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky." Since the publication of this passage in Night, Elie Wiesel has devoted his life to ensuring that the world never forgets the horrors of the Holocaust, and to fostering the hope that they never happen again.

Wiesel was 15 years old when the Nazis invaded his hometown of Sighet, Romania. He and his family were taken to Auschwitz, where his mother and the youngest of his three sisters died. He and his father were later transported to Buchenwald, where his father died shortly before Allied forces liberated the camp in 1945. After the war, Wiesel attended the Sorbonne in Paris and worked for a while as a journalist. He met the Nobel Prize-winning writer Francois Mauriac, who helped persuade Wiesel to break his private vow never to speak of his experiences in the death camps.

During a long recuperation from a car accident in New York City in 1956, Wiesel decided to make his home in the United States. His memoir Night, which appeared two years later (compressed from an earlier, longer work, And the World Remained Silent), was initially met with skepticism. "The Holocaust was not something people wanted to know about in those days," Wiesel later said in a Time magazine interview.

But eventually the book drew recognition and readers. "A slim volume of terrifying power" (The New York Times), Night remains one of the most widely read works on the Holocaust. It was followed by over 40 more books, including novels, essay collections and plays. Wiesel's writings often explore the paradoxes raised by his memories: he finds it impossible to speak about the Holocaust, yet impossible to remain silent; impossible to believe in God, yet impossible not to believe.

Wiesel has also worked to bring attention to the plight of oppressed people around the world. "When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant," he said in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. "Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must -- at that moment -- become the center of the universe."

Though lauded by many as a crusader for justice, Wiesel has also been criticized for his part in what some see as the commercialization of the Holocaust. In his 2000 memoir And the Sea Is Never Full, Wiesel shares some of his own qualms about fame and politics, but reiterates what he sees as his duty as a survivor and witness:

''The one among us who would survive would testify for all of us. He would speak and demand justice on our behalf; as our spokesman he would make certain that our memory would penetrate that of humanity. He would do nothing else.''

Good To Know

Use of the term "Holocaust" to describe the extermination of six million Jews and millions of other civilians by the Nazis is widely thought to have originated in Night.

Two of Wiesel's subsequent works , Dawn and The Accident, form a kind of trilogy with Night. "These stories live deeply in all that I have written and all that I am ever going to write," the author has said.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Wiesel to be chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust in 1978. In 1980, Wiesel became founding chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. He is also the founding president of the Paris-based Universal Academy of Cultures and cofounder of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.

Since 1969, Marion Wiesel has translated her husband Elie's books from French into English. They live in New York City and have one son.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Eliezer Wiesel (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 30, 1928
    2. Place of Birth:
      Sighet, Romania
    1. Education:
      La Sorbonne

Read an Excerpt

Introduction to the 2011 Edition
Of all the volumes I have written over the last fifty years, this is the one that brings back to me a sense of joy.
I remember: fall 1965. My first journey to the Soviet Union. In my quest for my Jewish brethren, I had no idea what was awaiting me in that godforsaken land. Will I find them? Are they still there? Haven’t they been either physically annihilated by Hitler or spiritually assimilated by Stalin?
Israeli officials—Meir Rosenne in New York, Ephraim Tari in Paris—were the ones who pushed me to make the trip: “Why waste words? Go and see for yourself.” They gave me one name: David Bartov, a legendary figure, the number two at the Israeli embassy in Moscow. All three eventually became cherished friends.
Yom Kippur in Moscow, a Shabbat in Kiev, a day or two in Georgia, Sukkot in Leningrad (today St. Petersburg), back to Moscow for Simchat Torah: first I encountered fear among the old people, then it was replaced by the exuberance of the young.
I said to myself then and I repeat it now: perhaps I survived only to serve as a witness to the anguished ancestral faith of the former and the inspiring courage of the latter.
The morning prayer and Talmud study in one small room; the dancing in the street in front of the Great Synagogue in Moscow (steps away from the infamous Lubyanka Prison); the clandestine meetings in Jewish cemeteries, where I taught young Jewish boys and girls chapters of Jewish history and popular songs about life in the ghettos and the dreams of Jerusalem. I returned to Israel filled with the memories of faces, tears, and tales that touched my soul and remain in my heart.
I still remember the whispers in houses of prayer, and the anonymous pieces of paper pushed into my pockets at concerts of Jewish music: “Please, brother Jew, do not forget us.”
I promised. I promised each and every one of them that I would become their messenger. That I would carry sparks of their flame to New York and Paris and London—wherever Jews and their allies live in security and freedom.
With my faithful friend David Bartov, I walked the streets of Moscow, trailed by not-so-secret agents, exchanging impressions and possible conclusions: Would this situation endure forever? Will the iron gates there ever be lifted? Will Russian Jews ever be allowed to “go home” to their historic Land of Israel? Both of us were skeptical, worried.
Oh, yes, we gave consoling words to the Jews we encountered; we tried to persuade them that redemption was assured and near. But we ourselves didn’t believe it. There was no practical, concrete reason to have faith in our own promises.
If anyone had told us then that, in our lifetimes, we would witness the collapse of the Communist dictatorship and the birth of freedom in the USSR, we would have sent him to a mental institution to be healed of his hallucinations.
I returned to be with them a year later, again for Simchat Torah; I sang with them, laughed with them. I was foolish enough to carry in my bag the first copy of The Jews of Silence in French; I was almost arrested. I tried to return a third time and was unable to receive a visa. It was given to me only in 1979, when I came with an official delegation. More visits followed after I received the Nobel Prize in 1986.
On one occasion, a clandestine encounter with dissidents was arranged somewhere in a private home. A man I had never met approached me. “I have a gift for you,” he said, handing me a heavy envelope. “This is my Russian translation of your book Night. I printed a few hundred copies in samizdat (“underground publishing”; it was against the law to publish my books in the USSR). All are gone. This is the last copy. I kept it for you.”
I thought: “My God, this man risked arrest and prison just to make my writing available to people here! What could I do to show him my gratitude?” I embraced him with tears in my eyes.
The same evening, in another room, a second man approached me. “I have a gift for you. I knew I would meet you one day.” It was his translation of Night.
The two men didn’t know each other.
So I took the second translator to the other room to meet his unknown colleague. They both realized that as each worked on my book they were not really alone. They fell into each other’s arms, laughing and crying at the same time.
I have both translations and keep them as invaluable treasures. They remind me of the time when Jews in the Soviet Union exposed themselves to peril by wanting to remain Jewish.
Today nearly a million of them live in Israel. Others emigrated to America.
How can the author of The Jews of Silence not experience pure joy?
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2011

    For Jewish culture buffs/historians, a must read!

    a very important reflection on a little known condition among soviet Jews. Oppression and discrimination takes many forms - so it is vital to recognize and expose it for what it is.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2003

    A historically important work which should be more readily available

    This work made history. Elie Weisel went to the Soviet Union, discovered and encouraged the revival of Jewish consciousness among the long -oppressed Jews of the former Soviet Union. His account of his meetings there moved many people to deeper involvement , and helped dramatically forward the cause of freedom for Soviet Jewry.This is a moving work , and a rare one, in that it truly changed history.

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