Together, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and the Florida Holocaust Museum will house the papers and artifacts of Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian, author and educator Elie Wiesel.
Romanian-born Wiesel (1928-2016) was a Holocaust survivor who wrote some 57 books in his lifetime, and became known as a leading voice for human rights, and one of the world’s most eloquent and impassioned writers and speakers on the atrocities of Nazi Germany.
Awarding Wiesel the Peace Prize in 1986, the Nobel Committee said his commitment “originated in the sufferings of the Jewish people, but that he expanded it to embrace all repressed peoples and races.”
He taught for many years as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Eckerd College, and delivered the commencement address in 1998.
“I think the Elie Wiesel Foundation saw the value of making St. Petersburg a kind of epicenter for Elie Wiesel’s ideas, his documents, a study of his message to the world,” said Thomas Smith, vice provost of academic affairs at USFSP and a Florida Holocaust Museum board member.
The museum, Smith explained, will likely provide a home for artifacts from the Wiesel collection, including his Nobel Prize, the contents of his personal office and library and a variety of artworks. “As I understand it, this is Elie Wiesel’s office, which has basically been untouched since he passed away.”
According to a tentative plan, documents both physical and digitized, including correspondence with world leaders, unfinished manuscripts, photographs and video and audio recordings will be housed (and catalogued) at the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library’s Special Collections Department on the USF St. Pete campus.
“The first step will be to go in, assess what’s there and then figure out who will be given what,” Smith added.
All the material will be made available for writers, Holocaust scholars and researchers, and the general public.
“We understand that there are unfinished manuscripts,” said Smith, “and so there may be things that no one in the world has seen.”
The archive will attract “people interested in human rights, in questions around humanitarian ethics and intervention. At heart, Elie Wiesel was a theologian, and so I think people from religious studies, philosophy, literature, history, all of that.
“He’s such a prominent figure that people in many different realms of research are interested in him.”
University administrators plan to create the Elie Wiesel Center for Humanitarian Ethics around the material, with an historical archive and searchable database.
In a prepared statement, Wiesel’s son Elisha – chairman of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity – was effusive. “For almost 30 years, my father taught at Eckerd College,” he said. “And he and my mother fell in love with St. Petersburg and the surrounding community, which is why I’m honored to be a part of solidifying the importance of this location to my father with the permanent exhibit of his collection.”
Dividing and sharing the Wiesel collection is the latest in a lengthy series of collaborations between USF and the Florida Holocaust Museum.
“Each of us does different things well,” Smith said. “Together, we can do a lot.”
Staff writer Mark Parker contributed to this report.