NEW YORk (VINnews) — Elie Wiesel’s only son Elisha has led a rocky path living in the shadow of his Nobel-prize winning father and his father’s torrid past. In a revealing New York Post interview, Wiesel described his relationship with his father, his religious journeys and how he felt firsthand his father’s experiences after visiting Auschwitz with his father in 1995.
”It was a very powerful experience,” he said of the notorious extermination camp in Poland where his father was deported at age 15. Elie’s mother and younger sister were sent to the gas chambers on the first day there.
“We found the spots where my father thought each of the various members of [our] family died and read Psalms there,” Elisha recalled.
But even more emotionally draining was their visit to Elie’s hometown of Sighet, Romania, where Elie had spent so many happy times before the Nazis occupied the area, rounding up Jewish people and sending them to the camps.
“There were ghosts for him [in Sighet] and not very much left of what there was before,” said Elisha, now 47. “It was like going with someone who had a spiritual radio; he was picking up signals that only he could feel and hear. And being with him, it went through him to me.”
Elisha’s full name is Shlomo Elisha and he is named for Elie’s father, Shlomo, who died at 50 after the death march to Buchenwald.
Growing up, Elisha recalled that his family’s Upper West Side home was a hive of activity, with people coming over to discuss various commemorations or plans for the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. “Everybody wanted a piece of my father, so that was part of growing up for me,” he said. “My classmates were going to Florida for vacation and we were going to Poland. The attention surrounding his dad could be overwhelming, especially when Elie was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986. Elisha was 14 at time.
“I was obviously proud of and happy for my father, but it was difficult for me. I felt like the spotlight had just been turned up [in a way] that I didn’t want,” he said.
Elisha admitted it drove him to rebel during his teen years, pulling away from family and religion.
“I raged against my school, against my parents and against my tradition. My father was ill-equipped to explain the rules of modern adolescence, and I raged against myself. His love seemed too heavy to bear, the confidence he had in me grievously misplaced,” Elisha, who attended Modern Orthodox yeshiva Ramaz on the Upper East Side, wrote in the Jewish Week in 2017.
“I think it was a rage against expectations,” he told The Post.
Elisha felt keenly the age gap between himself, a modern kid growing up in New York and his bookish immigrant father.
“There were certain things that were not going to be a part of my father’s toolkit in parenting,” Elisha said. “Other dads were able to go and spend hours at a baseball game or have a catch or engage in modern US culture. And these were things I had to drag my father along to.
“He’d bring a book, but he’d come,” Elisha said of getting his father to go to baseball games. “He was game.”
And the love of his father, he said, was unconditional.
“When I was really into rock ’n’ roll and came home with a strange haircut, he had no problem putting his arm around me and walking down the street.”
Elie never forced his own history on his son.
“He gave me as much space to be who I needed to be,” Elisha said, noting that he first read Elie’s book “Night” as a young teen. “It was very much a subject matter that was discussed, but my father didn’t want to push that on me. He felt that was a big burden to give a child. He tried to spare me where he could.”
Elisha went on to attend Yale, studying computer science, and now lives in Manhattan, with his wife, Lynn, 14-year-old son, Elijah, and 11-year-old daughter, Shira.
“I want both my kids to appreciate what they have, which is what my father didn’t have: a normal childhood.”
“The most important way to carry on my father’s legacy is to be a good father to my children, a good husband to my wife, a good son to my mother. Everything else is secondary,” he said. “I want both my kids to appreciate what they have, which is what my father didn’t have: a normal childhood.”
Last month, Elisha left a 25-year career at Goldman Sachs to help with Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign to bolster its technology push.
“Now that I moved on from my career on Wall Street, I hope I’m fortunate enough to find ways to give back and emulate my father by having an impact on the world,” he said.
And he did eventually find his way back to Judaism.
“If you would have told me, at 16 or 17, that 30 years later I’d be studying a page of Talmud a day, I would have said it’s impossible,” said Elisha, who sometimes prays with his father’s beloved siddur.
He’s also adopted Elie’s life philosophy.
“My father was very clear,” Elisha said. “Every time someone asked what he aspired to be, he said, ‘A good Jew.’”