Elie Wiesel—a Holocaust survivor and award-winning human rights activist—passionately gave his speech, “The Perils of Indifference,” while in the White House on April 12, 1999. The speech was part of the Millennium Lecture series, which was hosted by President Bill Clinton and his wife. Mrs. Hilary Clinton introduced Elie as well, saying: "It was more than a year ago that I asked Elie if he would be willing to participate in these Millennium Lectures...I never could have imagined that when the time finally came for him to stand in this spot and to reflect on the past century and the future to come, that we would be seeing children in Kosovo crowded into trains, separated from families, separated from their homes, robbed of their childhoods, their memories, their humanity." Indeed, the events in Kosovo created an effective environment that Wiesel could use to tell the audience about some of his experiences during the Holocaust ...view middle of the document...
But, as Elie points out, they waited. They were ‘indifferent.’ They did help eventually, but not before he and other Jews had gone through too much suffering. Elie has made it part of his mission to ensure that this never happens again, and so he created his speech to convince audiences of why they need to beware indifference and destroy it, lest the severe and deathly consequences of indifference affect an innocent population again. He uses several strategies in communicating that idea, such as extensive definition, powerful & to-the-point sentences, imagery, and rhetorical questions.
In order to effectively catch the understanding of his audience, and to convince them of the evils of indifference, Wiesel offers them a long, in-depth definition of the word itself. The audience may—at first—ask what indifference is, and to that, Elie says: “Etymologically, the word means “no difference.”” But he does not just use technical explanations in his definition; there are parts where he uses figurative imagery, such as when he describes indifference as “A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil.” The contrasting images that he uses efficaciously paint the truth of the complexity of indifference in the minds of the audience. What really roots itself in the minds of the audience is what Elie communicates when he uses more imagery and says that “Indifference is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative… indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it.” Humanity is familiar with those concepts—intimately so. They know what those two things can drive people to do, and here Wiesel is, telling them that indifference is worse. He has truly gotten the point across to them now: Indifference is a snare that traps those who do not remain vigilant to it all the time, and his audience is now aware of the perils of it.
"The Perils of Indifference" by Elie Wiesel, April 12, 1999