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Hollande pays tribute to Nobel winning holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel

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US President Barack Obama with Elie Wiesel on a visit to the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

French President François Hollande paid tribute to Nobel winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who has died at the age of 87, on Sunday, calling him a "great humanist and indefatigable defender of peace" and a "witness of the previous century" in a statement. Wiesel had a "special relationship with France", where his memoir Night was first published, Hollande said.


Born Eliezer Wiesel in September 1928, the future Nobel prize winner grew up in a small town in Romania.

Wiesel's parents raised him and his three sisters in a Jewish community, until they were all interned during the Holocaust when he was a teenager.

His mother and younger sister died in the gas chamber at Auschwitz concentration camp.

His father later died of dysentery and starvation at Buchenwald, where Wiesel was freed by US soldiers at the age of 17.

After being reunited with his two older sisters in France, he studied at the Sorbonne in Paris.

His memoir Night, a translated and amended version of Un di velt hot geshvign (And the World Remained Silent) which he had written in Yiddish and published in Argentina, detailed his experiences in Auschwitz during World War II.

This "universal man had a special relationship with france, where he studied after the war, where he published the first edition of Night thanks to Jérôme Lindon, where he set up the Universal Academy of Cultures in 1992," Hollande said.

Wiesel made it his life's work to bear witness to the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

But he was also a professor of Judaic studies and humanities.

He was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1986 and also became a US citizen.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly tried to convince Wiesel to stand for president in 2014, called him a "an exemplar of humanity".

US President Barack Obama said Wiesel was not just the world's most prominent Holocaust survivor, he also was a living memorial.