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USF St. Pete and Florida Holocaust Museum will use Elie Wiesel’s artifacts to fight antisemitism

Wooden shelves are lined with books inside of an archival room.
Cliff McBride
/
University of South Florida
The special collections room at the USF St. Petersburg library will house the papers, letters, and photos of Elie Wiesel within the next year.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel's artifacts will be coming to the USF campus and Florida Holocaust Museum. The sites plan to use his message to fight what they say is a surge in antisemitism.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus and the Florida Holocaust Museum will soon be home to the artifacts and papers of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

Wiesel was a Jewish author, philosopher, and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner who was one of the world's leading spokesmen on the Holocaust.

Some of his most notable pieces of literature include The Night Trilogy and The Jews of Silence.

A book cover shows the cover of a man in black and white. He is looking off to the side with a smile.
Elie Wiesel
/
Barnes and Noble
Elie Wiesel was an author and wrote over two dozen books. His biography reflects back on his life at eighty-two.

Thomas Smith is vice provost for academic affairs on the USF St. Petersburg campus.

He said Wiesel’s connection to the area allowed the museum and the university library to be chosen as the home for his archive.

“This was a nationwide competition to get Elie Wiesel’s repository and library,” Smith said. “Elie Wiesel had a long history with St. Pete; he was there at the ribbon cutting for the Florida Holocaust Museum's current building, and so I think that that helped to make it possible.”

Both locations will have digitized versions of Wiesel’s documents on display, and the museum will showcase his Nobel Prize.

Smith said that the sites will use Wiesel’s legacy to educate people. He also hopes to incorporate his ideas into USF’s curriculum.

“The museum is fantastic at curating things, telling a story, and creating a narrative using all kinds of artifacts, historical documents, but also interactive technology,” Smith said. “We feel like we can reach students in the state of Florida (and) we can then bring a scholarly twist to this and really amplify the message.”

The project’s team hopes to have researchers dig through the archives to find work that, as Smith said, has yet to see the light of day.

Smith also wants St. Petersburg to become the epicenter of lessons from Wiesel.

“His message becomes kind of a beacon for researchers; not only at USF, we want to bring researchers from all over the world to work with these materials,” Smith said. “It really becomes this place where the kind of magic, the message, and the legacy of Elie Wiesel can really come to life.”

Brown boxes line the shelves of a vault all the way to the ceiling.
Cliff McBride
/
University of South Florida
This vault at the USF St. Petersburg library will be where most of Wiesel's letters and photos reside.

It may take up to a year for the locations to receive the letters, manuscripts, and photos from Wiesel’s collection. But Smith said he feels that his message is important during what he says is a surge of antisemitism.

“We have horrific sorts of hatred that are bubbling up in a way that we thought we would never see again,” Smith said. “We feel a really strong sense of purpose that we want to mount a vigorous academic response to this upsurge in antisemitism and Holocaust denial that's happening right now in the world.”

Smith added that while they are currently in the planning stages for everything involving the archive, he knows that what Wiesel stands for will go beyond just the artifacts.

“People have either forgotten his message or need to learn it in the first place,” Smith said. “We see it every day, (we) really need to return to the kinds of ideas that Elie Wiesel has now embraced.”

Kayla Kissel is a WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for spring of 2024.
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