The collections of essays in Elie Wiesel's work are just as extensive as his novelistic work. Wiesel’s essay collections are comprised of countless thematically and stylistically diverse articles, written speeches and lectures, short narratives, stories, memoirs, fictional dialogues, and ethical and religious-philosophical treatises. Thematically, his published essays fall in line with Wiesel’s lifelong commitment to memory, humanity, human rights, the propagation of anti-war ideals, and the fight against Anti-Semitism.
Wiesel’s essay collections begin with the critical volume Gesang der Toten (Legends of Our Time), which was first published in French in 1966 as Le Chant des morts. This first collection of essays is dedicated to the core focus of Wiesel's work, memory. The volume begins with an account of his father's death in the Buchenwald concentration camp and ends with a forceful "plea for the dead" that strives to remove the idea of ownership over the memory of the dead. His didactic warning to posterity is described by his simple invocation: “So learn to be silent."
In the same year, Wiesel published an equally impactful volume titled The Jews of Silence, which was published in French as Les Juifs du silence. It contains essays, travelogues, and thoughts on the fate of Jews in the USSR who suffered the aftermath of Anti-Semitic Stalinism. Through his writing, Wiesel declares their rights to human liberties and, by extension, the rights of all those oppressed in the Soviet regime. Here are the origins of Wiesel's global struggle against injustice and human indignity, and his mission to give voice to those who have been silenced and oppressed.
In the volumes Entre deux soleils (One Generation After) and Un Juif aujord'hui (A Jew Today), Wiesel takes up essential questions of Jewish existence at the time. What will become of the memory of the Shoah in the next generation? How will Jewish life and identity be shaped after the Holocaust? How can the children of survivors, the second generation, continue to live with the burden of their ancestors' memory? Many of these contemplative works are grounded in real life encounters.
Two previously untranslated essay volumes, Paroles d'etranger (1982) and Signes d'exode (1985), have subtitles indicating they include "essays, stories and dialogues". Each piece within these volumes contains autobiographical memories (e.g., The death of my mother or Memories of Passover). Oftentimes, these memories are accentuated by fictitious conversations such as dialog between a child and his grandfather, or a discussion between an old man and Death. Themes such as the Cambodian war, the nuclear threat, oppression, the extermination of indigenous peoples in Latin America, hunger, and war are dominant in these volumes, but Wiesel also incorporates more delicate religious themes such as "belief or non-belief," the possibility and impossibility of prayer after Auschwitz, and anthropological themes such as "The Praise of Friendship[CZ1] ".
Wiesel’s monumental collection Against Silence, The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel, edited by Irving Abrahamson in 1985, contains three volumes of speeches, articles, essays, interview excerpts, open letters, reviews, and stories that cover every topic throughout his work. The subjects of this volume deal largely with the remembrance of the Holocaust, Jewish identity, human rights, his commitment to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, thoughts on Jerusalem, friendship, education, his self-image as a writer, and his relationship to the country and state of Israel.
Wiesel also published a series of travelogues that include a range of topics, such as his visiting Germany, his speeches at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, and his experience in the German Bundestag in Berlin, as well as essays against apartheid, indifference, and of his longing for peace.
The two final essay collections published during Wiesel’s lifetime were Woher kommst Du? (D'ou viens-tu?, Paris 2001[CZ2] ) and Where are you going? (Et où va-tu?, Paris 2004). These remarkable volumes are both heavily exemplified by Akabia, son of Mahallel’s famous motto: "Reflect on the following three pieces of advice, and you will not commit any transgression: Know where you come from, where you are going, and before whom you answer to."
[CZ1]Ist das der Titel? Dann sollte er kursiv gesetzt werden.
[CZ2]Englischer Titel fehlt