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How Elie Wiesel Responded to Losing His Life Savings to Bernie Madoff

Elie WieselElie Wiesel
Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winning author Elie Wiesel listens during an interview with The Associated Press in Budapest, Hungary.Photo by Bela Szandelszky—AP

The phone call came late one night in 2008.

Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, renowned writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner, listened as his son told him that Bernie Madoff had been arrested for swindling millions of dollars from unsuspecting investors. In addition to their savings, Wiesel and his wife Marion had also lost $15 million for the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, an organization they had founded together to promote tolerance and equality.

After Wiesel put down the phone, he turned to his wife, he later told Oprah.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dies

“We looked at each other, and our reaction was, ‘We have seen worse,’” said Wiesel, who survived Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was sent when he was 15. “Both she and I have seen worse.”

Word soon spread that the foundation had been hit by Madoff’s scheme, and Wiesel described what happened next as “something very beautiful.”

“All of a sudden, we began receiving hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of letters and donations, small donations, from all over America, Jews and non-Jews,” Wiesel recalled to Oprah. “The American people are so generous…. We received hundreds of them, and that helped us.”

Wiesel, who died on July 2 at age 87, concluded that his goal following the Madoff swindle was not to change his outlook: “It didn’t make me more pessimistic.”

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