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On Thursday, September 29 at 12:15PM students and faculty convened to hear Columbia University Professor David Phillips deliver a speech commemorating the life of late human rights activist, scholar, and holocaust survivor, Elie Weisel.
Phillips is the former director of the Elie Weisel Foundation for Humanity, and is currently Columbia’s Director of the Department for Peace Building and Human Rights.
Weisel was born September 9, 1928 in what is now Romania to an Orthodox Jewish family. Although his family spoke Yiddish at home, Weisel was a prolific student and linguist, learning modern Hebrew, Hungarian, Romanian, German, and French as a child.
In 1944, Weisel and his family were sent to Auschwitz, where his mother and one of his sisters were killed immediately. Weisel and his father were separated from his other two sisters, and sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp before being deported and sentenced to hard labor at the Buna Sub-camp.
When his father died due to hard labor, starvation, and abject torture of life within a concentration camp, the young Weisel, orphaned at 16 stated, “I had no more tears.”
On April 11, 1945, Weisel and his fellow prisoners were liberated. He, along with many other young men within the camp, were sent to France where he completed his education.
As a young man Weisel was a journalist in Paris, but in 1949 he traveled to Israel where he took the opportunity to write for an Israeli newspaper as the Paris Correspondent.
In 1955, he published the original version of Night entirely in Yiddish with very little public recognition. Several years later, Weisel would publish La Nuit (“Night” in French), followed finally by an English edition entitled Night to international acclaim.
An exceptional writer, Weisel would go on to publish 57 books throughout his lifetime.
Weisel would become one of the greatest voices for peace within his generation, convening students and Nobel laureates alike for meetings targeted at solving crises like the Bosnian Genocide.
In 1972, Weisel moved to New York, where he was a professor at the City University of New York until 1976 when he began teaching in the Philosophy and Religion departments of Boston University.
Over the course of his life, Weisel recieved 90 honorary degrees from colleges and universities worldwide.
Not failing to add a human dimension to the man that was Elie Weisel, Phillips highlighted Weisel’s seemingly aberrant view in terms of the question of Palestine. As an ardent supporter of Israel, Weisel condemned any threats to his beloved nation, including the perceived threat of Palestine.
On July 2, 2016, Elie Weisel died at the age of 87.
Weisel should be remembered as a global citizen, an activist, and a humanitarian above all else. Throughout his life, Weisel used his moral authority to condemn acts of injustice internationally, while encouraging others to do the same.
Before passing, Weisel dreamed of going to Sudan to speak out against the Darfur Genocide; Phillips feels that when he travels to Darfur later this year, he will be walking in the path of Weisel, intending to honor his memory through action.
Devon Wright is a staff writer for The Hub. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.