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Among the approximately 2,000 individual archives held by the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center are those of Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. The noted writer and Holocaust survivor’s correspondence, manuscripts, notebooks, and other materials were acquired by BU in 1990. Many of those items are now on view for the first time in the exhibition Champion for Human Rights: The Life & Work of Elie Wiesel at Mugar Memorial Library. The show, which runs through August, is a powerful reflection of Wiesel’s accomplishments as a novelist, playwright, journalist, political activist, and beloved BU professor.
Conspicuous by their absence are personal artifacts from Wiesel’s childhood in Sighet, Transylvania. That childhood was stolen by the Nazis in 1944 when the 15-year-old Wiesel and his family were herded into a cattle car bound for the horrors of Auschwitz. Freed from Buchenwald in 1945 along with his two surviving sisters, Wiesel, now 87, went on to devote his life to bearing witness to the Holocaust through writing, teaching, and human rights activism.
Wiesel (Hon.’74), the Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus in the Humanities and a College of Arts & Sciences professor emeritus of philosophy and religion, began teaching at BU in 1976. He is the author of more than 50 books, including the international best seller Night, a slim volume chronicling the horrors of the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, first published in France in 1958. The recipient of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, he has also been awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the French Legion of Honor’s Grand Cross, and an honorary knighthood of the British Empire.
Visitors to the exhibition, which opened last fall, will see more than 300 artifacts, among them letters to and from Wiesel, manuscripts, and his Nobel medal and acceptance speech, titled Hope, Despair, and Memory. Organized by language, the collection’s material is primarily in English, French, Hebrew, and Yiddish, among other languages. A polyglot who teaches in English, but writes in French, Wiesel speaks Yiddish, the language his family spoke at home in Romania, as well as German and Romanian.
To complement the new exhibition, the Gotlieb Center has launched a website devoted to the Wiesel archive, which includes many videos of his popular annual fall lecture series Three Encounters with Elie Wiesel—available online for the first time. The new website marks the culmination of years of efforts to recatalogue the enormous collection of primary sources that make up the official repository of Wiesel’s papers held at BU, according to Vita Paladino(MET’79, SSW’93), director of the Gotlieb Center. More than 60 individuals had a hand in the recataloguing to make it searchable online. As principal investigator, Paladino worked with project manager Joel Rappel and project supervisor Ryan Hendrickson, the Gotlieb’s assistant director for manuscripts.
“With this exhibition, we sought to capture the essence of a man whose entire life has been a mission statement in support of human rights and dignity for all,” says Paladino. “It showcases the depth and variety of his writings beyond the book Night, painting a portrait of a man who, despite a constant battle with darkness, never gives up hope that humankind will ultimately choose light.”
The exhibition includes Wiesel’s writings reflecting on his time imprisoned at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, photographs of his life in a children’s aid society orphanage in France after the war, and newspaper articles from his first job at the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. One gem of the collection is the unpublished manuscript Chapitre Zero, an early version of what would become Night. Also featured are original drafts of his numerous nonfiction works, hand-corrected speeches, memoir excerpts, and photographs from productions of the plays he has written. There are notes and drafts from the novels One Generation After, Le Jour, Le Mendiant de Jérusalem, and L’Aube. Also on display are Wiesel’s correspondence with major literary figures, among them playwrights Samuel Beckett and Arthur Miller, critic Harold Bloom, and author Cynthia Ozick, and political figures such as François Mitterrand (Hon.’89), Henry Kissinger (Hon.’99), Jimmy Carter, and Ted Kennedy (Hon.’70). Visitors can also see class syllabi, exams, photographs, speeches, and letters from his tenure as a BU professor. One section of the exhibition highlights the work of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, whose mission is to combat indifference, intolerance, and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding, and equality.
Champion for Human Rights: The Life & Work of Elie Wiesel is on view in the Richards-Frost Room, Mugar Memorial Library, 771 Commonwealth Ave., first floor. The exhibition is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, through August 31. Find more information here or call 617-353-3696.