Literature Study GuidesThe Perils Of Indifference Speech

The Perils of Indifference Speech | Study Guide

Elie Wiesel

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Elie Wiesel

Year Delivered



Primary Source


History, Speech

At a Glance

  • On April 12, 1999, Elie Wiesel (1928–2016) gave a speech at the White House about the danger of ignoring atrocities and oppression.
  • Wiesel, a noted author, spoke from wrenching personal experience. As a Jew, he suffered through the Holocaust, when the Nazi regime in Germany carried out mass killings of millions of European Jews and other minorities.
  • Wiesel spoke at a time when ethnic conflicts and atrocities in Rwanda and Yugoslavia had raised questions about how and when the world should intervene in violent situations.
  • In his speech, Wiesel argues that indifference to the suffering of others is a terrible wrong.
  • Wiesel casts indifference as more terrible and dangerous than anger or injustice, because indifference never leads to action.
  • Wiesel also views indifference as damaging to the person who remains indifferent, because it diminishes that person's own humanity.
  • Wiesel notes how the United States had chosen to remain indifferent to Jews who sought protection during World War II (1939–45).
  • He praises NATO intervention in Kosovo, where armed conflict between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs had been raging.


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