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What message does Elie Wiesel want to convey in his speech "The Perils of Indifference?"

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diane99 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted December 12, 2010 at 11:34 PM via web

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What message does Elie Wiesel want to convey in his speech "The Perils of Indifference?"

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 13, 2010 at 5:41 AM (Answer #1)

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He wanted to convey that indifference is worse than hate or anger. One could be angry at injustice or hate evil, violent acts. Indifference is the absence of compassion and implies something worse than outright hate; indifference implies a lack of acknowledgment. Being indifferent to another's suffering is like saying, 'you're suffering is not even worth my consideration.' Wiesel speaks from his experience of the Holocaust, but this could be applied to any situation in history in which the world was indifferent; in which the world willfully refused to acknowledge suffering of others for any number of unjustifiable reasons: 1) out of sight, out of mind, 2) passivity, laziness, 3) an untried feeling of hopelessness ('what could i possibly do?'), 4) selfishness. When Wiesel speaks of indifference he also means ignorance in 3 senses: 1) ignorant as in lacking sensitivity, 2) lacking knowledge and 3) ignoring.

The 'perils of indifference' could be described as the 'the terrible outcomes of ignoring atrocities. Apply this to anything today, where suffering is ignored by indifferent people and governments. (i.e., Darfur, Haiti). The peril of indifference would be to allow (allow by ignoring = indifference) an atrocity like the Holocaust to occur again.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted January 21, 2015 at 5:45 PM (Answer #2)

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In short, Wiesel's main point is to praise people who stood up for the victims of the Holocaust and condemn indifference.  Just to be clear, the definition of indifference is the state of lacking any care or concern for a person, place, event, etc.  However, Wiesel wants to make sure especially that his audience understands he is speaking specifically about indifference towards any person who is suffering.

Wiesel (who made his speech on April 12, 1999), praised President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton for their fight against injustice.  Primarily, Wiesel defines indifference and gives the stipulations mentioned in the above paragraph.  Wiesel then mentions, by name, those during the Holocaust who were the  most notorious for the trait of indifference. 

Wiesel poses many questions in his speech, and often asks if the world has less indifference than before.  Wiesel doesn't completely focus on the positive as a result.  He does mention that we approach the new century with "fear," but also with hope.  Indifference, therefore, still exists.  Unfortunately, while it exists, horrid events such as the Holocaust are always possible. Thus, because of indifference, history can repeat itself.

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