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Shocker, we know, but indifference is a major theme in a speech called "The Perils of Indifference."
This speech acts as a huge warning about being indifferent to suffering and injustice. Elie Wiesel understood better than most people the consequences of ignoring what's happening around you.
But more than that, he wanted his audience to recognize that being indifferent is not the same as being innocent—in fact, being indifferent or turning a blind eye to bad things makes you part of the problem.
According to Elie Wiesel, "indifference" is defined simply as "no difference." But it's actually much more complicated and nuanced, especially when talking about indifference toward human suffering throughout the world.
Elie Wiesel sincerely believes the only way to stop the evils of the 20th century from bleeding into the 21st century is to choose not to be indifferent.
Here's the thing Elie Wiesel wants you to understand both about the Holocaust and all the other genocides that have happened since: people are making them happen. Not mythical monsters or Disney villains, but flesh-and-blood people.
Which means that flesh-and-blood people can put a stop to these things by refusing to play a part—and that includes refusing to be indifferent.
On the surface, humans are complex creatures, and what defines humanity is also complex. But Elie Wiesel's experiences throughout the Holocaust, when the struggle to survive was his only focus, forced him to simplify what it means to be human.
In many cases throughout the Holocaust, as well as in other conflicts and genocides around the world, choosing to help the victimized populations made the helper a target, too. It's hard to blame indifference entirely on a lack of humanity when fear is also a likely motivation.
You know how people are always saying that history repeats itself? Well, that's exactly the opposite of what Elie Wiesel wanted to happen, especially after a century as full of suffering as the 20th.
Millions of people died in the century's genocides, civil wars, and world wars. Wiesel gave "The Perils of Indifference" on the verge of a new millennium in the hope that people would remember all the atrocities and learn from what he had to say so the next century wouldn't be filled with similar kinds of suffering.
There was no shortage of war and genocide throughout the 20th century, and while remembering such history is difficult, acknowledging it happened is the only way to honor the victims and prevent the tragedy from repeating itself.
Many people choose to look at history as something separate from their own experiences. However, when that happens, it's all too easy to forget the lessons of the past and make the same mistakes all over again.
The Nazis are blamed for the Holocaust and, while that's totally accurate, it's also fair to say that they couldn't have killed millions of people all on their own. They were aided by global indifference.
Throughout "The Perils of Indifference," Elie Wiesel stresses that part of being human means being accountable to other humans. In other words, we have a responsibility to take care of each other, especially if we see one group trying to victimize another. Ignoring the problem and being indifferent to it doesn't absolve us of responsibility, and that's the lesson people need to take with them into the new century.
Elie Wiesel believes indifference and human suffering go hand in hand. To ignore the misery of another person perpetuates the problem, and only by choosing not to be indifferent will suffering stop.
Throughout the 20th century, millions of people were killed in world wars and civil wars, in genocides and ethnic cleansing. It's easy to place blame solely on the groups of people who did the killing, but Elie Wiesel believes the rest of the world had to speak out and take action to stop the suffering…or else they are responsible, too.