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Elie Wiesel’s son opens up about growing up with world-famous Holocaust survivor

Elisha Wiesel visited the ruins of the Auschwitz with his father, Elie — the humanitarian, Nobel Peace Prize winner and world’s most recognizable Holocaust survivor — only once, 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 piercing was when father and son toured Elie’s hometown of Sighet, Romania, where there had been so many happy times before 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.”

Monday is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and a time for people around the world to be reminded of the horrors that happened there — as documented in stories like Elie’s best-selling 1956 memoir, “Night,” and photos like the one of him crowded with other men in the barracks at Buchenwald, skeletal and malnourished days after liberation. (Elie was transferred to that German camp and then liberated from there in April 1945. He died of cancer in New York City in 2016, at 87.)

Elie and his wife, Marion, named their only child Shlomo Elisha, after Elie’s father, Shlomo, who died at 50 after a death march to Buchenwald.

Growing up, Elisha recalled, the family’s Upper West Side home was a hive of activity: 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.”

Elie Wiesel poses with his wife Marion, right and son Elisha after his Noble Prize announcement.
Elie Wiesel poses with his wife Marion, right and son Elisha after his Noble Prize announcement.AP

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.

There was also sometimes a disconnect between Elisha, a modern New York City kid, and his 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.”

Elisha Wiesel and Marion Wiesel in April 2019.
Elisha Wiesel and Marion Wiesel in April 2019.Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Elisha even taught Elie how to throw a baseball before the humanitarian threw out the first pitch at the 1986 World Series.

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.”

 - Elisha Wiesel

“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 so 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 Torah book.

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.’”