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The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness
The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness
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Product Code: 707

Simon Wiesenthal

Publisher: Schocken Books

Simon Wiesenthal tells a strange story of an incident that occurred during World War II. As a prisoner in a concentration camp, he was part of a labor detail assigned to the task of removing garbage from a military hospital for German soldiers. Every day, the prisoners had to pass a military cemetery where rows of sunflowers were planted on the graves of German soldiers. Wiesenthal envied those sunflowers, knowing that he and other Jews would most likely be buried in mass graves piled under other corpses.

One day, a nurse summoned him to the bedside of a critically wounded SS man who wanted to confess and receive absolution from a Jew. It occurred to Wiesenthal that Jewish inmates were dying all around him without the pity or compassion the German soldier was asking from him now. Wiesenthal listened to the SS man's story--and left without a word.

"What would you have done in my place? Would you have forgiven the repentant Nazi?" Wiesenthal asks Jewish and Christian theologians, historians, journalists, psychiatrists, Holocaust survivors, and survivors of atrocities in Bosnia, Cambodia, China, and Tibet. Their responses, included as a symposium in this new expanded edition, present a challenging debate on the possibilities of forgiveness and the meaning of repentance.

Wiesenthal's work as a Nazi hunter brings him into contact with many known murderers. "At the trial of Nazis in Stuttgart," he writes, "only one of the accused showed remorse. He actually confessed to deeds of which there were not witnesses. All the others bitterly disputed the truth. Many of them regretted only one thing--that witnesses had survived to tell the truth." Acknowledgment and remorse are rare reactions, he notes--but does it change anything for us when a criminal repents? Does the acknowledgment of a crime deserve a response? What does forgiveness mean for the murderer? For the victims? For the survivors? Decades after the Holocaust, these questions remain as relevant as ever.

(Reprinted from Reform Judaism Magazine with permission.)

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