Study Guide

The Perils of Indifference Compare and Contrast

By Elie Wiesel

  • Elie Wiesel, "Hope, Despair and Memory"

    Elie Wiesel was a teenager in Romania when the Nazis took control and deported him and his family to concentrations camps in and around Germany. He was liberated from Buchenwald in 1945, but by then, both his parents and his younger sister had died in the camps.

    After the war, when it became apparent people hadn't learned anything from the tragedy of the Holocaust, Wiesel dedicated his life to fighting injustice. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and in his lecture, "Hope, Despair and Memory," he talks about how important it is to remember the Holocaust, both to honor the people who died and to stop all the war and genocide still happening around the world.

    Throughout the speech, Wiesel argues against forgetting the Holocaust, even though it's easy to understand why everyone wants to stop thinking about it. So many terrible and horrific things happened, millions of people suffered and died—but that's exactly why history has to remember it. Only by remembering it will we honor the victims, both the survivors and those who died, and remind the world why it's so important to put a stop to genocide and ethnic cleansing.

  • Martin Niemöller, "First They Came for the Socialists…"

    You may have heard one version or another of this quotation from a Protestant pastor living in Germany. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has an entire page dedicated to it.

    Niemöller's point is that keeping quiet while entire groups of people suffer around you makes you part of the problem. He was talking specifically to the German people, the ones who stood by and watched as the Nazis rounded up innocent people and marched them to ghettos or, even worse, attacked them in the streets. If they refused to speak out against that brutality, no one was going to be around to speak up for them.

    In "The Perils of Indifference," Elie Wiesel has the same message. Millions of people died in the Holocaust, yet atrocities continued to happen throughout the rest of the 20th century, and those of us who aren't being persecuted have a responsibility, as citizens and as human beings, to speak up and fight back.

  • The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

    This act was the result of lots of bad feelings related to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which lots of people, including President Harry Truman, believed to be un-American. The act marked the first time in U.S. history that a single law outlined all the rules for immigration and citizenship—before this, there were pieces of legislation here and there with different regulations.

    But lots of people agreed with President Truman that Americans had a responsibility to help immigrants trying to escape dangerous and potentially deadly situations around the world. So, in 1965, Congress made some changes to the original act.

    The focus turned to legally reuniting families that had been separated, in the process bringing skilled laborers into the United States, which would boost the economy as a result. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 had a more positive focus, and these rules are the ones that apply today—at least, in theory.

    After September 11th, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to improve the security of the United States so such a huge and devastating terrorist attack wouldn't happen again. Part of that involved taking over a lot of immigration services and enforcement, and there's been some disagreement about how the DHS should go about it.

    More recently, under the Trump administration, there's been tons of controversy over his immigration plan and how he's executing it. Specifically, there's been discussion over whether the plans to restrict immigration from countries experiencing civil war, like Syria, go against what the 1965 act tried to correct.

    So even 17 years after Elie Wiesel spoke at the White House about interfering to put a stop to injustice, just how to go about doing that is still an incredibly contentious issue.

  • FDR, "The Four Freedoms"

    When FDR gave his State of the Union address in 1941, American allies were busy fighting Hitler and the spread of Nazism in Europe. The United States didn't have troops on the ground yet—and they wouldn't until after the attacks on Pearl Harbor 10 months after this speech—but FDR made it clear that the United States wasn't going to remain isolated from the war for long.

    The speech is called "The Four Freedoms" because it focused on the basic rights all people everywhere deserve to have, simply because they're human beings. The Constitution includes freedom of speech and freedom of worship, but FDR believed people also deserved to live free of want and free of fear—and that last one is something Elie Wiesel believed, as well.

    Of course, FDR knew that the United States would eventually have to be involved in World War II, so this speech was a gentle reminder that since Americans enjoyed all four of these freedoms, they had a responsibility to fight for others who didn't—and that message is pretty similar to what Wiesel offers in "The Perils of Indifference."

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