Columbia University Student, Bruce Mayrock, Immolates Himself in Front of U.N. in Support of Biafra: From the Archive

(Report below was culled from Archive of the Columbia Daily Spectator, the newspaper of Columbia University and Morningside Heights, New York and the second-oldest college daily paper in the US.)

Self-immolation is powerful route to martyrdom

Protester engulfed in flames willfully ignited during self-immolation. This extent of burn invariably results in death despite all medical intervention afterwards.

Bruce Mayrock, a twenty-year-old student at the School of General Studies (GS) and a sports photographer for the Columbia Daily Spectator, died Friday after setting himself on fire in front of the United Nations to protest the war in Biafra. According to witnesses, the student, who enrolled in GS last January doused himself with a flammable liquid shortly before 3 p.m. Thursday and set himself afire on the lawn outside the U.N. building. Two United Nations guards spotted the flames and chased the youth across the lawn with fire extinguishers. But Mayrock eluded the guards, racing in front of the North Lounge of the building before several hundred horrified delegates and onlookers.

The student finally fell to his knees beside a statue bearing the Biblical inscription “Let us beat our swords into plowshares” and the guards extinguished the flames. Mayrock was rushed to Bellevue Hospital where he was listed in critical condition with burns over most of his body and was pronounced dead shortly after midnight. At the U.N., guards found a large cardboard sign on the front lawn which said, “You must stop the genocide–please save 9 million Biafrans.” At the bottom of the sign, a quotation read, “Peace is where there is an absence of fear of any kind.”

In past years, two other persons have immolated themselves in front of the U.N. Both died of their burns. Mayrock, who lived in Westbury, L.1., enrolled in GS and the Jewish Theological Seminary in September, 1967, but dropped out after one year and studied briefly at Hofstra University. He re-enrolled at GS last January. While at Columbia, Mayrock worked as a photographer for the Spectator sports department.

Members of the youth’s family stated Friday that he had worked actively to protest the war in Biafra, writing letters about the war to the President and leading government figures. However, according to one rabbi, who said he was close to the family, the student believed that “no one was listening.” “He was an idealistic young man deeply upset by the events in Biafra,” the rabbi said. “People were being killed and he felt no one was doing anything. That’s why he did what he did.”