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Remembering Elie Wiesel, an Outstanding American By Choice

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Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner who died on July 2 at 87, was recognized by USCIS as an Outstanding American by Choice in 2008.

Among other accomplishments, he was founding chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where just last month, to mark World Refugee Day on June 20, USCIS held a naturalization ceremony for the first time. He was also chairman of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, which he and his wife created to fight indifference, intolerance and injustice.

"Going back to when I saw him speak at my college, I have long been inspired by the manner in which Mr. Wiesel's gentle spirit was the vehicle for towering moral clarity and strength," said USCIS Director León Rodríguez.  "Like many of the refugees who we meet at USCIS, Mr. Wiesel took from his suffering a call to repair the world.  May we all be deserving heirs of the invaluable ethical legacy he leaves."

In a statement, President Barack Obama said of Wiesel: "As a writer, a speaker, an activist, and a thinker, he was one of those people who changed the world more as a citizen of the world than those who hold office or traditional positions of power.  His life, and the power of his example, urges us to be better.  In the face of evil, we must summon our capacity for good.  In the face of hate, we must love.  In the face of cruelty, we must live with empathy and compassion.  We must never be bystanders to injustice or indifferent to suffering."

At age 15, the German Nazis deported Wiesel and his family from Romania to Auschwitz in Poland.  His mother and younger sister died in the camp.  He and his father were later moved to Buchenwald, where his father died a few months before it was liberated by the U.S. Army in April 1945.

After the war, Wiesel learned that his two older sisters had survived.  He studied in Paris and became a journalist.  Over the years he authored more than 40 books of fiction and non-fiction, including his account of the camps in "La Nuit" or "Night," which has sold millions of copies and been translated into more than 30 languages.

Since 1976, he had been the Andrew W. Mellon Professor at Boston University. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed him as chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust.  He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.  His numerous other awards included the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

In a statement, Vice President Joe Biden said, "Elie implanted in my soul an unwavering insistence that we must educate every successive generation to exactly what happened, so that we can never forget the horrors of the Shoah. It was Elie's life-long work to make sure each of us carried in our hearts that promise - never again."