Eckerd College hosts Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel

03/12/10 Tom Baur
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In January, Eckerd College embarked on its yearlong scholarly journey of exhibits, lectures and performances to explore “The Plight and Promise of Africa.” Last night, Nobel Peace Laureate and Nazi concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel was joined onstage by human rights activist and Eckerd College Scholar-In-Residence John Prendergast.

The two proponents of humanitarianism stood on stage before a sold-out crowd at the Mahaffey Theatre to present From the Holocaust to Darfur: If We Had Only Learned Our Lesson.

Hitler’s World War II Nazi war machine killed Elie’s mother, father and little sister. The storm troopers worked the 17-year-old boy to death but couldn’t kill him. He lived on hope.

First of all, I teach my students, I share with them, my passion for learning. I’m a teacher. A teacher, then he is a writer. But I tell them he is a teacher, and has a passion for learning. That is what I teach my students at Boston University for the last 36 years or so, or before that, at Yale and at City College of New York. This is why I love teaching. And then I will tell them that there is hope. Just remember, there is hope. And the hope for me is they. They are my hope. They are tomorrow’s children. Already, they carry our great-grandchildren in them. And they are capable, absolutely capable, of changing the world, to make it a better world: more welcoming, more hospitable, more human.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel survived the Nazi Holocaust and has dedicated his life to combating indifference, intolerance and injustice all over the world. Recently, he wrote to Governor Crist requesting a stay of execution for a convicted killer. Wiesel’s plea went unanswered, and the killer was executed.

I didn’t even know, really, about the case … in Florida. But then some people called me and say there is a movement trying to prevent that execution, and I am against capital punishment. Again, I am against death. I don’t think we should increase that. If a person takes life, of course he should be punished, and most severely, even. Punished. It should be life imprisonment—but not in a nice facility, but hard labor. He should pay for it, absolutely. But not death. They should not be agents of death. That’s why I asked for clemency, meaning to commute that sentence into life imprisonment.

John Prendergast, human rights activist and author, is cofounder of Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity. Prendergast recently sent an open letter to the Obama administration to help prevent a full-scale war from erupting in Sudan the coming year.

The president has issued a new policy on Sudan, which is very encouraging, because it answered a lot of the things that the human rights groups and key members of Congress are asking for. But his personnel have not yet started implementing that policy. So there’s still a gap between rhetoric and action, between words and reality, that we have to chase very, very hard as human-rights advocates, to make sure that the administration does what it says—what he said—they were going to do.

As you enter the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg there is a huge picture of children being unloaded from a death camp railroad boxcar. In front is an engraved plaque with the quote: “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.” Elie Wiesel

For more information about Eckerd’s “The Plight and Promise of Africa” series, go to

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