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

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

kathik eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Quite simply, Elie Wiesel, in his speech "The Perils of Indifference," wants us to know that when someone is indifferent to the suffering of another, he/she is just as guilty as the person causing the suffering. When we stand idly by and do nothing, we become accomplices to a crime against other human beings. During the Holocaust, Jews were marched through towns to concentration camps, and most of the people who saw them watched without any concern for their well being. Actually, many of the local residents taunted them, threw rocks at them, spit on them, and did other horrible things. Neighbors turned their backs on Jewish neighbors and stood indifferently by when the Jewish neighbors were taken away by the Nazis. Wiesel's speech emphasizes that this is how evil takes hold. We are all in this together, and we must stand up to evil wherever it exists.