Elie Wiesel: Sometimes the Truth is an Accident

Published: 1997-04-01

This document is part of the Smith's Report periodical.
Use this menu to find more documents that are part of this periodical.

Elie Wiesel is in the press again, this time in the pages of The New York Times (5 March 1997). With March the madcap month of hares, fittingly enough the Nobel laureate was telling yet another harebrained tale of a hair’s-breadth survivor’s escape.

The story? In the course of his interview, the reporter from the paper Joseph Sobran dubbed “The Holocaust Update” noticed that the survivor was in pain. Real, physical, not metaphysical, pain, this! A crutch, an aching knee—was the hero hurting from an ancient Nazi kick?

No! A taxicab—in Times Square, New York City, in 1956. “I flew an entire block,” said Elie. “I was hit at 45th Street and Broadway, and the ambulance picked me up at 44th. It sounds crazy [now we’re getting someplace—ed.]. But I was totally messed up.”

Now, in New York, a north-south city block normally measures (adjoining street included) 264 feet. Assume the Holocaustian, hurled heavenward by the taxi’s blow, flew only curb to curb—i.e., a measly 180 feet or so. The question still arises: how is it that a victim of two such impacts—taxicab and pavement—is still able to speak to us?

But the trail of miracles and tears in Wiesel’s rant was only just beginning. He claimed the ambulance that picked him up stopped not at one, but two, New York City hospital emergency rooms, where heartless, greedy medics— instead of treating him—first checked his pockets for evidence of cash or insurance. On finding none, they sent him off—for them no Hippocratic Oath—until at last, one doctor (Jewish—who’d have guessed) admitted, treated and cured poor Elie. (“Three hospitals it took,” the survivor told The Times.)

We trust you’ll forgive our lapse into doggerel here and there: the survivor laureate’s ravings, whether his story of geysers of blood spouting from corpses buried months before, or his vision of truckloads of Jewish infants thrown by Germans into a flaming pit, or this new tale about flying the length of a first-rate football punt and surviving the landing on a New York street, somehow provoke the poetic in us.

In a prosaic mood, CODOH decided to consult a medical expert on this last story, as well as look into what, if anything, Wiesel’s said about this remarkable incident earlier—to determine which of the two the Nobelist, survivor, and professor is: a flying—or a lying—laureate? (Sorry.) Our doctor friend agreed that such a crash was unsurvivable, and he also told us that in the 1950’s it was extremely uncommon in New York City for charity cases to be turned away at emergency rooms (that only started happening with any frequency in the 1980’s).

Next, we turned to Elie’s memoirs, All Rivers Run to the Sea—or fly, as the case may be—(New York, Knopf, 1995), and there we found the same taxi story with its one-block flight (“...through the air like a figure in a Chagall painting. ...” p. 293), but the two greedy, non-admitting hospitals?—in 1995 there was only one! How these stories evolve, eh?

Then we turned to a novel Wiesel wrote devoted to the same incident called, appropriately enough, The Accident (published in France in 1961 [Editions du Seuil], in the US 1962 [Hill and Wang]). The author’s caution in his memoirs that “My novel The Accident was only partly inspired by reality” (p. 298) was like a subliminal message telling us to look at Avon’s 1972 paperback edition of the book.

There Wiesel describes an accident that befalls a Active “Joseph”—at the same time, the same place that the cab struck Elie in real life. Joseph, just like Elie, was struck while walking with a woman friend. In The Accident the lady later tells Joseph what took place:

“A speeding car approaching from the left had caught me, dragging me several yards.” (p. 19) Alas, how drab is Elie’s fictional imagination in his novel, contrasted to the wonders of his real life! In real life he was blasted through the air for hundreds of feet. In his novel, written more than 35 years ago, he was dragged a drab several yards.

In the novel Wiesel writes:

“Kathleen also told me this: the first hospital to which the ambulance took me refused to let me in. There wasn’t any room. All the beds were taken. At least that’s what they said. But Kathleen thought it was just a pretext. The doctors, after one glance at me, had decided there was no hope. It was better to be rid of a dying man as soon as possible.” (p. 20)

In the novel Joseph (Elie) is not refused care because he had no money and no insurance, but because he looked like a lost cause. The no-money and no-insurance slur against American hospitals and American doctors is traceable, so far, only back to 1995.

What we like about this story is that with Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate, his lies about his real life are considerably more colorful and inexplicable than what he has dared to invent for his fiction—a strange, even fatal weakness for a novelist, but a source of great strength for a liar and propagandist.

CODOH is going to keep after the facts on this one, both as to what Wiesel has said and as to what really happened. We expect that the police, medical, insurance, and court records of this remarkable collection of incidents will prove very interesting. Meanwhile, two questions for SR readers and the world: if Wiesel, the sainted elder, lies about an ordinary traffic accident, and slanders U.S. doctors along the way, what wouldn't he invent about his hated Germans?

I thought I was done with this story for the moment, but something is nagging at me. I have been told that I should let up on Elie Wiesel, that he’s “just an old Jew who lost everything at Auschwitz.” That’s true enough, and I cannot help but be moved when I reflect on what happened to him as a young man, a boy really, at the hands of the Germans.

But Elie is no longer a boy. He’s an adult. He’s a world-renowned spokesman for what has been called the greatest flood of lies and filth the world has ever known. He can no longer expect to be treated like the boy he was half a century ago. The time is come for him to walk away from the lying before it’s too late. Because he is going to be outed now, or he is going to be outed after he dies. In either case he will become the cause of immense shame to his son, to the rest of his family, and to those all over the Western world who have placed their trust in him.

Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): Bradley R. Smith
Title: Elie Wiesel: Sometimes the Truth is an Accident
Sources: Smith's Report, no. 42, April 1997, pp. 3f.
Published: 1997-04-01
First posted on CODOH: Feb. 23, 2015, 6 p.m.
Last revision:
Appears In: