Elie Wiesel Sexually Assaulted Teenager at Charity Event, Woman Claims in 'Me Too' Account

A woman claims that esteemed scholar, philanthropist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel molested her as a teenager, squeezing her "ass" at a charity event in New York three decades ago.

In a "Me Too" post on Medium last week, Jennifer Listman, a former doctoral student at New York University and researcher at Yale University, recounts that the late Wiesel forced himself between her and her boyfriend during a photo shoot at the 1989 memorial event and molested her. As the photographer focused, Wiesel allegedly moved his hand from Listman's right shoulder to her shoulder blade, then down her back where he groped her as the photo was taken.

The hand moved lower. It moved again. This happened slowly, over a period of seconds; a physical impossibility that is possible under such circumstances. I was in disbelief... The photographer snapped the photo. Simultaneously, Elie Wiesel’s right hand had reached my right ass cheek, which he squeezed.

Wiesel immediately ran, she said, disappearing into the crowd and leaving her "frozen to the spot" where she stood. Listman ran through a list of possible excuses in her head but eventually realized: "I know exactly where my ass is, and that’s where his hand was,” she told her boyfriend at the time.

That boyfriend, who later married Listman, confirmed the account to Newsweek. David Listman said he did not see Wiesel grab Listman, but he remembers his then-girlfriend's reaction and their conversation after. The couple is no longer married.

Listman was 19 at the time and writes that the squeeze "was a calculated act and worse than you think," saying that she dressed conservatively and looked young for her age, believing Wiesel mistook her for an "ultra-religious underage girl who was unlikely to tell anyone" about the assault.

"In other words, he purposefully chose to molest someone who he assumed was a minor and who would be compelled into silence," she wrote.

Listman said she waited so long to discuss the incident out of fear she would damage Wiesel's legacy or spark anti-Semitism by speaking out about the Holocaust icon, saying she struggled with "anxiety, panic attacks and suicidal depression" as she kept the story inside.

The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity said Listman's post represents the first time anyone has smeared Wiesel's reputation.

"We utterly reject this spurious accusation," the Foundation said in a statement. "Elie Wiesel had a decades-long role as a respected teacher and mentor to countless students. At no time during his long career has anything like this ever been suggested. We are disappointed that Newsweek would republish such a specious and unsubstantiated charge."

Listman's account comes as women are stepping forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of recent and decades-old sexual assault, and she posted it on Twitter with the hashtag "Me Too" to show the magnitude of the problem.

"If people rarely hear about something’s existence, they assume it to be rare," Listman wrote. "Now you’re hearing about it a lot. Allow yourself, then, to accept the disturbing reality. It is not rare."

Listman said she struggled with discussing the sexual assault, knowing Wiesel was lauded as a Nobel Laureate for sharing his stories of the genocide committed by the Nazis during World War II. His book "Night" recounting his experience at Nazi German concentration camps Auschwitz and Buchenwald, is required reading for many schools. He died at 87 in 2016, but his body of work remains the final word on Hitler's Final Solution. 

Nearly 30 years after the event, Listman said she is exhausted from the "guilt, fear, and shame" from the 28-year burden of keeping the secret "in a possibly misguided overestimation of my own capacity and responsibility to protect the world from the knowledge of something evil and ugly; as if I was required." She does not weigh in on how Wiesel should be remembered in history, but rejects the blame she placed on herself for years to shoulder the burden of protecting people from the truth of his actions. 

If you are sad and in mourning for your lost icon, I am not to blame for taking him away from you. I am not to blame for robbing the Jewish community of a leader, the world of a symbol, or his family of their memories. I did not do it. He did. He is the only one responsible for his evil act. He is the only one responsible for building his legacy as a house of cards. You may have to repeat that to yourself a number of times, as I have. He did this, not me. He did it.

Listman's story is likely to create reverberations throughout the Jewish community. The Forward, a Jewish publication, initially published Listman's account but removed it with a note that it did not meet the publication's standards. Many readers challenged Listman's account, defending Wiesel, while individuals on Twitter applauded Listman's bravery in speaking out.

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