Eliezer Wiesel was a Romanian-born Jewish Holocaust survivor. He authored 57 books and a recipient of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. At the turn of the century and millenium, Wiesel also gave a speech based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camp. Through his strategic use of powerful diction, disturbing images, and historical context, Wiesel educates his audience on the dangers of indifference and motivates them to take a stance against inaction.
Wiesel uses powerful diction to appeal to his audience’s emotions and move them to action against inaction. He describes indifference as “tempting – more that that, seductive” (Wiesel). Thus, he effectively captures the nature of indifference as wholly enticing and incognizant. While temptation provokes one to do wrong, seduction lulls one into a false sense of comfort. Seduction turns a blind eye, a deaf ear, a cold heart to the consequences of an action and destroys morality in favor of mortality. Wiesel adds even more depth to this definition by describing America as “the great country, the greatest democracy, the most generous of all new nations” (Wiesel). Here, double meaning is attached to the word great: America is wealthy and the American people are privileged considerably above the rest of the world. However, America was also more negligent and callous to the plight of Holocaust victims than any powerful nation should be. Even though Wiesel makes no direct accusations, his heavily loaded language makes the accusations for him.
The “young Jewish boy” represents all victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing and the people Wiesel references when he discusses “the failures that have cast a dark shadow over humanity” (17). This dark shadow is enormous: about 11 million people were killed in the Holocaust alone in the 20th century (roughly the combined populations of New York City and Los Angeles). Thus, by referencing the young Jewish boy in the beginning of his speech, Wiesel offers historical context for his main points. He also gives his audience a face to focus on and attach meaning to as he details the numerous atrocities experienced by innocent victims. Then, at the end of his speech, Wiesel brings back the image of the young Jewish boy, both as a reminder and as a call to action. For that young Jewish boy, and all the men, women, and children he represents, we have to do better in the next century.