In a lengthy interview, Elie Wiesel told USA Today that he would continue the work of his foundation, despite that it was virtually wiped out by Bernard Madoff:
Wiesel and his wife, Marion, started the foundation in 1986 with a portion of his Nobel award. In December, it reported it had $15.2 million, "substantially" all its assets, invested with Madoff.
Authorities have identified 13,000 of Madoff’s investors, including Wiesel’s foundation, which sponsors conferences of Nobel laureates and centers in Israel for refugees from Ethiopia and Darfur.
The irony has been noted: "It takes an extraordinarily heartless conman to swindle a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Nobel Peace Prize winner out of all of his charitable funds," wrote James Bone in The Times of London.
Wiesel shrugs and says, "People ask, ‘How could he do it to you?’ To me! As if I’m the only one. It’s not about me."
Nor, he says, is it a particularly Jewish question, despite the fact that Madoff is an Orthodox Jew and that most of his investors were Jewish.
Wiesel says that in the past 20 years, he met Madoff only twice and briefly. "I was introduced by friends — friends that he also betrayed. It’s repulsive."
He answers most questions about Madoff with his own questions that are left unanswered: "Was he a crook because he was a Jew? Was Ponzi a crook because he was a Christian?"
Since the foundation’s financial loss was reported, Wiesel says, it has been flooded by unsolicited contributions — "big and small, from young and old, Jew and non-Jew. It’s an expression of their outrage."
He says the foundation has received about $200,000 in such contributions — enough to keep its programs going. Among those who have offered to help, he says, is "my good friend Oprah Winfrey."