Elie Wiesel

Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always a friend to the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor – never his victim.

In 1944 Elie Wiesel, along with his family, was taken to Auschwitz extermination camp. Nearly all of his family was killed while held and brutalized by Nazis. Wiesel gave a speech at the White House in 1999 titled The Perils of Indifference in which he emphasized the danger of apathy. While in captivity he, and those he was with, felt abandoned and forgotten. They believed that the world could not know of their suffering or else some action would be taken. They felt the sting of indifference.

Defining someone’s suffering as an interruption removes their value and denies their humanity. Wiesel warned of the lure of this indifferent mindset. He explains that the temptation of inaction and apathy allows us to focus solely on our own desires and goals. Empathy and engagement with people is what makes us human and Wiesel shows that by embracing indifference we would betray our humanity. His time of persecution allowed Wiesel to experience relegation to insignificance, but also the power of empathy.

Not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.

Read or listen to Elie Wiesel’s full speech here. Mr. Weisel also spoke at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Monday, April 23, 2012. See those remarks here.