Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel raised more than a few eyebrows when he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, just a few days before the election, that he was planning on collaborating with President Obama on a book.

The 84-year-old Holocaust survivor told that paper, “[President Barack] Obama and I decided to write a book together, a book of two friends.”

Speaking at the Chicago Humanities Festival this past weekend, Wiesel offered a few more hints about the book to the audience.

“We said that one day, when we have more time—I have plenty of time—but when you have time, we should write a book together,” he said. “But it is years ahead.”

Now that President Obama has won reelection, that book may be even further off, but Wiesel is happy to wait. He has deep respect for President Obama ever since their first meeting—or, at least, the first meeting Wiesel was aware of.

“I met Obama years ago,” he said. “I got a phone call from the White House inviting me to speak with him.”

But as it turned out, it was not the first time the two had been in a room together. While studying at Occidental College in California about 30 years ago, Obama went to one of Wiesel’s lectures, and mentioned it to the author years later. “He said to me: ‘You came to California to give a lecture. I was there. I heard your lecture. It stayed with me.’ How could you not like a man like that?”

Before leaving for the White House in 2009, Wiesel’s wife, Marion, told him he should prepare a speech for the event, but he decided he did not need it. “I did not listen to her,” he said. And “at the end of the conversation, Obama, who is very elegant, leaned over and whispered to me very softly, ‘The last word here should be yours.’ ”

“I should have listened to my wife,” he said with a laugh.


Photograph: Sergey Bermeniev