Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel Remembered By Eckerd Students
Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel died Saturday at the age of 87 in his New York home.
Wiesel taught at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg as a visiting professor. Every year he would speak to incoming freshman, who were required to read Night, an autobiographical account of his experience as a Jew during the Holocaust.
At the age of 15, Wiesel was taken to Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp in 1944. His family was separated from him, except for his father Shlomo.
Wiesel’s father passed away after he and Wiesel were moved to the Buchenwald camp. His father had not eaten for six days. Wiesel was liberated from the concentration camp by U.S. troops in April of 1945.
Wiesel also taught classes at Eckerd College in the winter semesters. Carolyn Johnston is the Elie Wiesel Professor of Humane Letters, she has co-taught with him for 24 school terms.
Their first course together was titled “Remembering and Forgetting: Personal and Political Transformation” and since then most of the courses revolved around 20th Century literature, history and philosophy. Johnston described Wiesel’s course material as being focused on what people should not forget.
“A lot of the content had to do with fighting against indifference, it was for social justice and for memory,” said Johnston. “He was able to literally transform the lives of our students. I was transformed also.”
Johnston said that Wiesel was able to give voice to the voiceless and that his personal experience during World War II gave him unique insight and care for his students.
Wiesel gave one-on-one time with each student during the course of the semester, Johnston said.
A former student of Wiesel, Libby Shannon, now works for Eckerd College as the director of the office for advocacy and gender justice. Shannon is also an associate chaplain for the college.
Shannon said that Wiesel was a caring professor who valued relationships.
“The relationship between teacher and student is the relationship he valued most highly in his professional life,” she said.
During the lecture to the freshman class that Wiesel gave, he retold a story about his mother. When coming home, his mother would not ask him how his day was, instead she asked: “What questions do you have today?”
Shannon said that she hopes many of the students that Wiesel taught will remember that question. An inquisitive nature is important in a person, Shannon said.
Wiesel touched many student's lives, and Shannon says hers was changed for the better.
“His call to be willing to see humanity even in the midst of such horrific violence and such hatred is the thing that does drive the hope, ultimately,” she said.
Hope, Shannon said, is one of his most important lessons.