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Florida Holocaust Museum, USF will house Elie Wiesel collection

The trove of papers, photos and other items will be used to amplify the teachings of a famed Nobel laureate who had strong ties to Tampa Bay.
 
Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate and author who survived the Holocaust, gives a speech titled "On the Threshold of the 21st Century" at Eckerd College on Feb. 9, 1994, in St. Petersburg. Wiesel called for an end to violence, telling a packed auditorium that man's inhumanity to man cannot continue. He was a visiting professor at Eckerd for years before he died in 2016.
Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate and author who survived the Holocaust, gives a speech titled "On the Threshold of the 21st Century" at Eckerd College on Feb. 9, 1994, in St. Petersburg. Wiesel called for an end to violence, telling a packed auditorium that man's inhumanity to man cannot continue. He was a visiting professor at Eckerd for years before he died in 2016. [ Times (1994) ]
Published Feb. 20

The Florida Holocaust Museum and University of South Florida will soon become the permanent home for the collections of Elie Wiesel, the Nobel prize-winning Holocaust survivor, professor and writer who for years was a visiting professor at Eckerd College.

The museum will re-create Wiesel’s office, including his Nobel prize, family photos, artwork and other documents. Other papers, unfinished manuscripts and letters with world leaders will be housed at the USF St. Petersburg library, forming the basis for a new Elie Wiesel Center for Humanitarian Ethics.

Elie Wiesel's New York office, seen here, will be re-created at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.
Elie Wiesel's New York office, seen here, will be re-created at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. [ Photo courtesy of Solomon Howard. ]

“The museum exists in order to honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and to teach about the dignity of all people in order to prevent future genocides,” said Mike Igel, chairperson of the Florida Holocaust Museum board. “So there is arguably no better name and person and set of values than those that were espoused by Elie Wiesel.”

Wiesel, who died at 87 in 2016, authored several books, including “Night,” a memoir based on his experience as a teen at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II. He taught at Eckerd College for 23 years, teaching courses about the book as well as one centered on hope.

“He was a survivor,” Igel said. “He was a father. He was a grandfather. He was a husband. He was a person. And he changed the world. And that’s one of the most important lessons of the Holocaust: that we must not be silent.”

Igel, whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors, said he’s excited to carry on Wiesel’s legacy and hopes the museum, which is being renovated in phases, becomes an international destination.

Thomas Smith, a board member for the museum and vice provost for academics at USF’s St. Petersburg campus, said the center at the university will need approval from the state Board of Governors and is still in the earlier stages of planning. However, it has received much support from USF President Rhea Law, he said.

Smith said he envisions the center as a place for faculty across disciplines, including philosophy and psychology, to do research, write op-eds and advocate for contemporary issues. The possibilities include hiring new endowed faculty, he said.

A rendering of the renovated Florida Holocaust Museum featuring the Elie Wiesel collection.
A rendering of the renovated Florida Holocaust Museum featuring the Elie Wiesel collection. [ Photo courtesy of Solomon Howard. ]

“We want to kind of be a loudspeaker really to amplify (Wiesel’s) teachings about genocide, about human rights, crimes against humanity, and to really do that in an academic way,” Smith said. “So, for example, look around the world right now — there’s a lot of ugliness. One of the things that we want to do is mount a really vigorous academic response to the upsurge of antisemitism and Holocaust denial.”

Smith and Igel pointed to recent incidents in the U.S. following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel and a rise in antisemitic speech.

The teachings, Smith said, “are very relevant to the world and to help give a kind of scholarly underpinning to this message of hope and humanity that we’re really trying to send out to the world.”

Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, working in partnership with Open Campus.