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To listen to the speech analyzed in this essay and read the official transcript, visit Elie Wiesel Buchenwald's Speech at American Rhetoric. Citations in this essay follow MLA format.
In the year 2009, at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, former prisoner Elie Wiesel delivered a passionate speech reminding the world of a horrific incident in history. His purpose was to commemorate the lives lost at the Buchenwald camp during the torture and extermination of its prisoners over half a century ago. My analysis will focus on how Wiesel used the strategies of storytelling, intonation, articulation, pause, quotation, and redundancy to engage and maintain his audience’s interest, as well as evoke their sympathy. Utilizing the three major divisions of a speech, his introduction captured the audience’s attention; the body presented his position; and his conclusion summarized the theme he wanted to portray (Beebe 13).
Wiesel opened his speech in a most humble and clear tone, loud enough to be audibly heard, yet soft enough to portray the deep pain he still felt as he told the story of how his father called his name just before dying in the bunk bed above him. He explained that he was too afraid to go to his father’s deathbed for fear the German guards would see him. His opening story of his father’s death was a powerful attention grabber (Beebe 189, 14). He also paused to add effect and used short, simple sentences in his introduction and throughout the speech to allow his audience to visualize his experience without an abstractions (Beebe 134,137). Without overloading the audience with long descriptive details of his horrific experience, he enabled them to feel his pain and perceive his honesty. He does not shy away from remorseful words of recollection, either (Beebe 19, 79). Using these tactics combined with direct eye contact, Wiesel stood erect before the audience with his hands held loosely together in a humble display of character and integrity (Beebe 142-143).
To achieve a warm reception, Wiesel assessed his audience and appropriately referenced the current German Chancellor’s civic contribution and President Obama’s earlier speech on humanity (Beebe 43). He challenged the world’s claim of having learned from the historical atrocities of the past by referencing victims in Rwanda, Darfur, and Bosnia, selecting the examples that best suited his theme (Beebe 97, 118). Wiesel spoke with the right intonation of measurable staccato, in addition to pausing to emphasize his dissatisfaction with what people have purportedly learned. In perfect pitch, he asked the crowd, “Will the world ever learn?” (Beebe 190).
As the speech moved from the introduction, through the body, and onto the conclusion with carefully crafted verbal transitions, the speaker used an appropriate quotation to drive the seriousness of his feelings home (Beebe 111, 121). He closed his speech with a quote from the philosopher Albert Camus, author of The Plague.