Like many who have made Madoff’s list of several thousand victims—individual cases are, obviously, widespread in history’s biggest Ponzi scheme—Wiesel doesn’t care for the distinction:
“I don’t want my name linked with that crook,” Wiesel says, as soft-spoken as ever. “I don’t want to be known as one of his victims. I want my name linked to peace and literature and human rights.”
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.”