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Bernard Madoff and Elie Wiesel were fellow trustees at Yeshiva University.

Like some other trustees at YU, Wiesel invested with Madoff. He lost millions.

Did the two men know one another? Yes. They dined together a couple of times, after which Wiesel invested with Madoff.

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Would it make sense for a playwright to be intrigued by the historical intersection of two such different, high-profile, Jews?

Sure. And Deb Margolin, a writer from Yale, wrote a play, Imagining Madoff, in which she imagined the imprisoned Madoff recalling a long conversation he once had with Elie Wiesel. As Margolin describes it, the conversation as written was about morality, with Wiesel the embodiment of goodness, and Madoff evil, or something like that. Certainly Margolin has said that she intended her fictionalized Wiesel to convey integrity in contrast to Madoff’s sleaziness…

Yet Wiesel calls the play “obscene” and has threatened a defamation lawsuit, as a result of which the play’s Washington performance has been canceled.

Elie Wiesel, champion of liberty, has bullied a production of an artwork out of existence.

He refuses to speak to the press about this.

(He hasn’t got much of a defamation case, as this lawyer interviewed by NPR points out, but you never know.)

(By the way, the lawyer NPR interviews says something wrong:

And I guess the [legal] argument [Wiesel] would make is, look, I was a victim of Bernie Madoff. I invested – my foundation invested money in the foundation. It was an arm’s length transaction. I didn’t know the man. This play makes it look like I’m his friend. I’m having late-night conversations with him. We’re discussing things, which never happened.

While it doesn’t sound as though they were exactly friends, from what UD can tell they not only dined together twice but knew tons of people in common, sat together on a university board, and … well, Wiesel deeply trusted this man. He gave him all his money. “We thought he was God,” said Wiesel, after the fact, of Madoff… )

The play will appear, with the Wiesel character under a different name, later this summer in Hudson, NY.

Hey! I might be able to attend that! I’ll be at our Upstate house in August…

While writing this post, I’ve been discussing with Mr UD whether we could go to Hudson to see the play. He seems to think so. A matinee maybe, since it’s around a two-hour drive…

I told him about the Washington cancellation. “If Wiesel is eager to dissociate himself from Madoff,” said Mr UD, “what he’s done will have exactly the opposite effect.”

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3 Responses to “Wiesel Words”

  1. Ahistoricality Says:

    The man’s spent a lot of time and energy being famous for one thing: I understand his reaction. But actually taking legal action is indefensible, unless the play is being presented as based on more than the author’s imagination.

  2. MattF Says:

    It’s edifying in an unpleasant way– a case where Wiesel’s mixture of arrogance and self-pity appears ‘in the clear’. One may wonder if the play needs some rewriting beyond a global search-and-replace of “Wiesel” with “Diesel”, or whatever.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Ahistoricality, Matt: I’m guessing that above all else Wiesel is deeply embarrassed. It was stupidity and greed and – as Wiesel admits – an all-too-human attraction to the thought of being part of an exclusive club and having access to riches ordinary people didn’t have access to – that made him bring virtually all of his personal and institutional assets to Madoff.

    The play, by casting Madoff and Wiesel as friends, only reminds people that Wiesel invested in Madoff because Wiesel was incapable of distinguishing between the con man of the century and an admired — worshipped — acquaintance. Wiesel doesn’t have the excuse that many of the Madoff investors had — they never met the man. He dined with Madoff, twice.

    These bare facts certainly undermine Wiesel’s reputation as a keen moral arbiter.

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