Thursday 12 November 2015

Elie Wiesel's The Perils of Indifference

The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. (Elie Wiesel)

Elie Wiesel was a Romanian Jew who survived imprisonment in Auschwitz and Buchenwald during the Second World War, documented in his book Night.  Like many imprisoned Jews, Elie assumed that the powers that be did not know about the Nazi death camps.  After all, if they did, they would do something to stop the mass killings.

However, Elie eventually discovered that the United States State Department knew about the Nazi death camps; the Pentagon knew, as did President Roosevelt.  In fact, in 1939, when the ship the S.S. St. Louis arrived on the shores of the United States filled with 1000 Jewish refugees requesting asylum, President Roosevelt said no (see

Why did the Americans (and Canadians in the case of the SS St. Louis) show such indifference to the Jewish condition.  Elie said that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.  Such an attitude is dangerous.  "In a way, to be indifferent to suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred.  Anger can at times be creative.  One writes a great poem, a great symphony.  One does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses.  But indifference is never creative."

The Americans, and the rest of the Allies, finally acted when they invaded the Nazi occupied countries and started liberating the Nazi death camps.  There was no indifference in their eyes when they saw the skeletons piled high.  Elie remembers the soldiers rage at what they saw.  He remembers the gratitude that he felt upon his liberation.  Here is an excerpt from the speech he delivered to President Clinton and some dignitaries in Washington DC in 1999:

Fifty four years ago to the day, a young Jewish boy from a small town in the Carpathian Mountains woke up, not far from Goethes 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.  Liberated a day earlier by American soldiers, he remembers their rage at what they saw.  And even if he lives to be a very old man, he will always be grateful to them for that rage, and also for their compassion. Though he did not understand their language, their eyes told him what he needed to know -- that they too would remember and bear witness.

No comments:

Post a Comment