Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel dies at 87
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Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has died, Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial said. He was 87.
He was described in his Nobel prize citation as "a messenger to mankind."
"His message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity," the statement said. "His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement saying Wiesel "gave expression to the victory of the human spirit over cruelty and evil, through his extraordinary personality and his fascinating books."
"In the darkness of the Holocaust, in which our sisters and brothers were killed -- 6 million -- Elie Wiesel served as a ray of light and example of humanity who believed in the goodness in people," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister gave thanks that he had been blessed to have know Wiesel, and learned from him, personally.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin added that Wiesel was a "hero of the Jewish people, and a giant of all humanity."
Rivlin called him "one of the Jewish people's greatest sons, who touched the hearts of so many, and helped us to believe in forgiveness, in life, and in the eternal bond of the Jewish people. May his memory be a blessing, everlastingly engraved in the heart of the nation."
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder also eulogized Wiesel, calling him "a beacon of light" and said the Jewish world "owes him an enormous debt of gratitude."
"Today, Jews and non-Jews around the world mourn a man who was undoubtedly one of the great Jewish teachers and thinkers of the past 100 years. His passing leaves a void that will be impossible to fill. At the same time, his writings will live on," Lauder said.
Wiesel was born in the Romanian town of Sighet in 1928. He was 15 when the German Nazis forced the Jewish community of Sighet to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in nearby Poland. His mother and younger sister died at the camp, but his two older sisters survived.
Wiesel was sent with his father to Buchenwald, where his father died shortly before the concentration camp was liberated in April 1945.
After World War II ended, Wiesel studied in Paris and later became a journalist. He wrote an internationally acclaimed memoir, "Night," in which he details his experience with his father in the concentration camps. He has since authored more than 60 works of fiction and nonfiction.
Wiesel was president of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, an organization he founded with his wife Marion in 1986 that seeks to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice.
Wiesel holds more than 100 honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning and has received numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the National Humanities Medal and the Medal of Liberty, according to a biography on his foundation’s website.
In 1986, Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize with the selection committee hailing him as "a messenger to mankind; his message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity."
President Obama appointed Wiesel to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council in June. The two first met in 2009, when Wiesel joined Obama and German Chancellor Merkel in a visit to Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
The three toured the camp and met with young Germans before delivering remarks. Wiesel spoke last, in his impromptu speech he reflected how the visit was "actually a way of coming to visit my father's grave -– but he had no grave. His grave is somewhere in the sky."
Wiesel also expressed his "high hopes" for the young Obama to use his "moral vision of history" to bring more peace to a world that Wiesel said he felt had long forgotten the message of the Holocaust, with some denying its horrors altogether.
The two dined together several times through Obama's presidency, and their relationship endured despite Wiesel's opposition to the president's nuclear deal with Iran. Wiesel attended Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress and even took out a full page ad in the Washington Post and New York Times inviting Obama to listen with him.
Wiesel also told Haaretz in 2012 that the two were working on a book together, "a book of two friends."
ABC News' Molly Hunter and Alexander Mallin contributed to this report