This essay rhetorically analyzes Elie Wiesel's speech, "The Perils of Indifference."
| “Fifty-four years ago to the day, a young Jewish boy from a small town in the Carpathian Mountains woke up, not far from Goethe's beloved Weimar, in a place of eternal infamy called Buchenwald. He was finally free, but there was no joy in his heart. He thought there never would be again.” (Wiesel, The Perils of Indifference) Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate, and political activist, challenged the world in his speech, part of the Millennium Lecture Series hosted by the Clintons at the White House in 1999, calling the world to deny indifference and to take action, motivating the people listening to want to change the world. Elie Wiesel gave a convincing and effective speech, taking advantage of the credibility automatically bestowed upon him because of his past, all the struggles he has been through, and all his accomplishments; as well as using an appeal to emotion by speaking vividly of the horrible things that have happened in the past century; accompanied by a taste of logic.
Elie Wiesel was born in Romania in 1928. He has not only lived through the Holocaust, but truly experienced the Holocaust, losing his mother, father, sister, and faith to Hitler’s concentration camps. Wiesel has written for both Israeli and French newspapers, published over 40 books, including his most famous, Night, a book that tells of his experiences and personal faith journey during the Holocaust, a book which has now been translated into 30 different languages and has hit the top of the charts on The New York Times bestseller list for paperback fiction. Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968, being called a “messenger to mankind” by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Because of Wiesel’s credibility, and because he does a fabulous job of appealing to ethos in his address to the people of this world, his argument that indifference is not only present in this world, but dangerous, is taken much more seriously. When the audience feels like they know and can trust the author or speaker the argument is much more convincing and proves to be more effective.
Authors also have a tendency to appeal to pathos, taking advantage of the audience’s emotions. Wiesel’s audience, the people of this world, is very impressionable. Most people long for world peace, want to help make this world a better place, and long for the day when pain and suffering are no more. Therefore, when Wiesel challenges the world to take a stand and to stop accepting indifference, many people feel an uprising in their heart, a call to be better. Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, can very easily obtain sympathy from his audience, considering everything he has been through in his past. When Wiesel speaks of indifference, sharing stories about the prisoners of Auschwitz, he emotionally connects to the audience, describing the image in stark detail, “Over there, behind the black gates of Auschwitz, the most tragic of all prisoners were the ‘Muselmanner,’ as they were called. Wrapped in their torn blankets, they would sit or lie on the ground, staring vacantly into space, unaware of whom or where they were, strangers to their surroundings. They no longer felt pain, hunger, thirst. They feared nothing. They felt nothing. They were dead and did not know it.” (Wiesel, The Perils of Indifference) Wiesel uses vivid imagery and powerful words in his argument against indifference, making his speech, as well as himself, relatable to the audience, causing his speech to be much more effective.
Elie Wiesel brings many issues to his audience’s attention, calling them to action in a very powerful way. While Wiesel doesn’t appeal to logic as much as he probably could have, he does use it throughout his speech, helping to make his point. Wiesel may not use diagrams, statistics, or expert testimonies, but he does use well reasoned examples, and he structures his argument in a logical way. Wiesel begins his speech with a powerful introduction, defines the term ‘indifference,’ discusses the danger of accepting indifference, shares a few examples of indifference throughout history and their tragic consequences, and concludes with a challenge to the world to embrace something other than indifference. He mentions historical events that exemplify indifference, such as the tale of the St. Louis, when a boat filled with ‘human cargo’, a boat filled with one thousand Jews, was turned away from America and sent back to Nazi Germany. He also comments on the fact that the Pentagon, the State Department, as well as the President, knew about Auschwitz and Treblinka, and did not take action until much later, distorting the view of the American government in many Jew’s eyes. Wiesel’s well structured argument and use of historical events appeals to the audience’s logic, causing them to consider the facts.
Wiesel’s speech, his cry to this world, is made much more effective due to Wiesel’s knowledge and use of the rhetoric appeals and his ability to deliver a well structured argument. “And so, once again, I think of the young Jewish boy from the Carpathian Mountains. He has accompanied the old man I have become throughout these years of quest and struggle. And together we walk towards the new millennium, carried by profound fear and extraordinary hope.” (Wiesel, The Perils of Indifference)
Roen, D., Glau, G., R., & Maid, B., M. (2009). The Concise McGraw-Hill Guide Writing for College, Writing for Life (NAU edition). New York : McGraw-Hill.
Wiesel, E. (1999, April) Elie Wiesel’s address at the White House as part of the Millennium Lecture Series.