The Testament

What will you be doing at 4.30pm tomorrow afternoon? That’s the time of day we all start to flag and reach for the kettle and teabags to power us through to the end of the working day. But tomorrow, our cup of tea will be accompanied by the voice of Sir Ben Kingsley, who will be speaking about the incredible life of Elie Wiesel on the Great Lives programme on BBC Radio 4.

Wiesel was at once a professor, Nobel laureate, Holocaust survivor and campaigner, and author of The Testament: the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

“A witness for truth and justice.” The Nobel Committee

The Testament follows the life of Paltiel Kossover, a “mute poet” and witness to history, travels from his Jewish childhood in pre-revolutionary Russia to Paris and Berlin in the 1930s as the Nazis take power, and Spain during its Civil War. On his journey he embraces communism only to return to Russia and be imprisoned. In his prison cell Paltiel writes his ‘testament’, a long letter to the son he will never see again, an account of his life as a man “who lived a Communist and died a Jew”.

Encompassing Europe, and the history of the twentieth-century, Elie Wiesel pays tribute to the many writers killed by Stalin and in Paltiel he has created one of the great Everyman characters of contemporary literature.


Elie Wiesel was born in Romania in 1928. As a child during World War Two he was deported to Auschwitz, where his mother and sister died, and sent on to Buchenwald where his father died. At the end of World War Two he moved to France and, eventually, to the USA.

“Words can hardly do justice to Wiesel’s life or his dignity.” The Times

Read The Testament here: and tune in for Great Lives on BBC Radio 4 at 4.30pm (GMT).


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