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The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and…

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (Newly… (edition 1998)

by Simon Wiesenthal (Author)

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9951916,125 (4.1)6
A group of philosophers, critics, and writers weigh the moral issues involved in a young Jews' response to a dying Nazi's confession of mass murder.
Title:The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (Newly Expanded Paperback Edition)
Authors:Simon Wiesenthal (Author)
Info:Schocken (1998), Edition: 2nd Revised and Expanded ed., 289 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal


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The author describes a moral dilemma in which a Nazi SS agent asks for forgiveness from a Jew for his murderous acts as the German is dying. The author, a Jew, is perplexed by the question of whether he should have or appropriately could have forgiven the murderer. I actually find the discussion pointless. The request is meaningless and inappropriate. Surely we have more valuable things to do than to debate this issue. ( )
  GlennBell | Jan 10, 2019 |
A thought provoking read indeed. I tried to look at this from two perspectives. As an outsider (which I most certainly am) with a knowledge only of the history of the sheer terror, misery, depravity and barbarism that the Jewish people endured (along with many other targeted groups I must add) and then also by trying to put myself in the shoes of the victims. I couldn't even begin to comprehend what those who murdered, tortured, starved, brutalised and humiliated , must have felt and therefore I couldn't and wouldn't begin to presume that I could forgive had I been in their shoes. As the outsider, I would like to think that I could forgive, mainly for my own peace of mind and to let go rather than any altruistic reason toward the perpetrator, in the case the dying soldier.
As with all the books about the holocaust, it is difficult to read but nevertheless a worthy read. ( )
  AlanTainty | Aug 27, 2018 |
This is an exceptional book. Lots of food for thought. ( )
  mjolorenz | Jun 30, 2017 |
"You are a prisoner in a concentration camp. A dying Nazi soldier asks you for forgiveness. What would you do?"

I don't like it when people pussyfoot around about whether Nazi soldiers can be linked in some way to Hitler and the Holocaust. Some people like to pussyfoot away from using the term "Nazi soldier" at all, basically since it was a very popular army, and more or less a synonym for a German man of that age, loved by wife and children.

But if you can be honest about the actual situation, instead of essentially just mulling around that it's difficult to think about, (or blaming the first to speak), I think that the problem can have a solution. If it were me in that scenario of the prisoner, I think that I would want to forgive the man who had ruined me for Hitler's sake. I don't know how long it would really take me to do that healing and forgive, but that would be my goal.

(Of course, if I am a non-prisoner then I cannot forgive them for what was done to others and not to me, but I interpret the thought experiment as making me the prisoner so that I can decide.)

So if you just forgive the Nazi, then by uniting these two elements, "forgive" and "Nazi", you are not simply closing your eyes to whatever it pleases you to and damn the consequences, and you cannot be accused, justly, at least, for bearing a grudge against A-ha and Abba, or whatever it would please people to say.

I mean, there's always some innocent in the camp of the wicked, but it is foolish to place all your hopes in this, for people quite simply are not always innocent, which is why people talk about the tents of the wicked the way that they do. But if you can forgive the Nazi straight, then you have a hope that nothing can take away.

And the lesson of course is that you do benefit from forgiving, from releasing the most logically powerful complaint. And you will commonly meet people who, for example, are impolite by nature, and therefore brusque and unconsciously intimidating because they are ignorant and exclusively physical, and because they don't know any better. But in the end, you can rage against them in vain, or forgive them.

"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34, KJV).

If you can forgive anybody, even when they choose ignorance consciously as the Nazis did, and no matter what they do because of this, and the Nazis clearly did much, then nothing can disturb your peace.

"He fell to his knees, shouting, 'Lord, don't charge them with this sin!' And with that, he died." (Acts 7:60, NLT).

.... Anyway, the point is, that this is a great work of modern philosophy. (I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I don't really care for Kant. Ha!) I like it as much as the Stoics, who would be happy to hear that there's no arbitrarily difficult circumstance that can distort your morality. There isn't.


I might as well add a few things.

One is that I think that the other person has a conscience, no matter how terribly they've offended it.

Another thing is that he certainly was guilty as well as feeling that guilt, but I don't think being innocent is a condition of being forgiven, for then there is no such thing as forgiveness.

Also I'm not trying to trample on the Jews and their different ideas of forgiveness, (forgiveness as only being offered for what you yourself suffered), although the way they put it that made the least sense for me was when he said that the people who were murdered would accuse them for forgiving their murderers. That is needing the permission of the tribe to make a very personal choice, and I don't think that anybody can reach into your chest and force you to keep up your feelings against someone, as though they could think in your head. That's important to me.

Along similar lines, I realize that Christianity colors my decision, but I think that Christians are not always the wolves: consider the black Christians, who have been put into a situation of often comparable disaster--I don't want to belabor the point, but I think it's true-- but who I think can only benefit from this ideal of forgiveness that they carry.

Also I think that the idea that only Jews can understand the Holocaust, well, it completely demolishes the thought experiment, the point of the book, but then also it would have to apply equally to the blacks or to other groups for their stories, and ultimately you are just left with a slander, I think, against the human mind and its ability to have empathy, against using your mind to try to understand another person.... So I have to apologize I guess for this very Christian understanding of the Holocaust, but I can't apologize for it.

As for the mother or even the father of the SS man, I cannot affirm their guiltlessness, even though they had less power and no straightforward killings like their son, but I cannot help but feel this weak feeling for them, for their difficult situation, although if they had both lived to see evidence of their son's wrong-doing I think they would have to search for their own guilt as well, and really try to find it, not because everyone is the same, but because to live fully one must examine oneself, truthfully. I would even go so far as to agree with the author in that the children born later must examine what they have inherited: I'll admit I put that lighter than he does maybe, but I think you have to choose your relationship with your past, ask yourself if you benefit in some way materially, etc. Ask the tough questions.

And as for the author himself, I do not agree that we should not forgive him for not forgiving, as one of the prisoners assumed we would. Especially since his position does have nuisance, maybe more than is common among his religion, and obviously he never had to write the book at all or propose the thought experiment to begin with if he did not really want to. Also his silence before the dying son is paralleled by his silence later before his grieving mother, so I guess he just didn't want to make the choice about what to think about that man, or even offer it, except that he does offer it later to us. A lot can be said about silence obviously, but at least his seems like an honest, consistent sort.

And again with faith, one thing I found odd was how he felt at first about the sunflower for the grave, about how he worried about eternal justice and what having that sunflower meant; if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that once he got that sunflower, he got what was really his own, completely regardless of what any person gave or did not give him or said or did not say or accepted or did not accept, or anything.

So that's my entry: the first part being my response to the prompt or the thought experiment, and the second part being more of a review of the book: the first part of my entry being like the second part of the book, and the second part of my entry being a reflection of the book's first half. ( )
  walkthemoon89 | Apr 27, 2016 |
Forgiveness is such a tricky thing isn't it? That is one of the baselines of this particular book. The book is written by a survivor of the Holocaust and a very peculiar incident that happens to him during his time in a concentration camp. I have to be completely honest if this wasn't for a course that I am in this semester this would have been one of the first books that I simply didn't respond to at all, but I actually have to write a response for my course. The book talks about the limits of forgiveness, but in my own life I believe there are not limits. It was hard to read this book because of what I felt was some venom on the part of these individuals. While I understand that the Holocaust was one of the most evil parts of our history I also know that forgiveness should be had for all individuals regardless of their station in life. All individuals. Some people will not agree with me, but I guess that is one of the beauties of this particular book everyone can and will form their own individual opinions on the matter. This will be one of my shorter reviews because I will later post my own personal response here after it is completed. ( )
  SoulFlower1981 | Jan 20, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Simon Wiesenthalprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cargas, Harry JamesEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Fetterman, Bonny V.Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Alkalaj, SvenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Améry, JeanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Balic, SmailContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bejski, MosheContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Berger, Alan L.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brown, Robert McAfeeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cargas, Harry JamesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Coles, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dalai LamaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fisher, Eugene J.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Flannery, Edward H.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fleischner, EvaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fox, MartthewContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Goldstein, RebeccaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gordon, MaryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Goulden, MarkContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Habe, HansContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Halevi, Yossi KleinContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hertzberg, ArthurContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hesburgh, Theodore M.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Heschel, Abraham JoshuaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Heschel, SusannahContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hobday, JoseContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Lipstadt, Deborah E.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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What was it Arthur said last night?
But the God who allowed the Holocaust did not, and does not, have the standing to forgive the monsters who had carried out the murders.  (Arthur Hertzberg)
On the other hand, when Simon Wiesenthal visited the dead soldier's mother in Stuttgart some months later, he was right not to deprive her of her illusions about her son.   He did not visit his sins on her.    Wiesenthal obeyed the Biblical injunction that each of us dies for our own sins, and not even for those of our children or of our parents.  (Arthur Hertzberg)
But there are always time lags between the several stages in translating moral and religious guilt into civil and juridical guilt.  First there is the realization that some wickedness is not like an earthquake or a flood: it is wrong, and someone did it. Then there is the time lag until the thought penetrates the communal mind that if someone did it, the person can be punished (and others so inclined be discouraged.)  There follows the time lag until the crime is defined and the punishment decreed for perpetrators.  Finally there is a time lag until the laws that are on the book generally can be enforced.  (Franklin H. Littel)  (emphasis added)
There is much that silence can teach us, if we could but learn to listen to it.  Not the least of its lessons is that there may well be questions for which there are no answers and other questions for which answers would remove the moral force of the question. […]  We concede that we are not gods and that we lack, as much as we might be loath to admit it, the capacity to provide understanding and assurance for every inexplicable moment in life.  (Hubert G. Locke)
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The hardcover of REVISED AND EXPANDED EDITION 32 new contributions and 1 revised contribution, as compared to the ORIGINAL EDITION. It is significantly changed from the first edition.

In addition, this PAPERBACK EDITION of the REVISED AND EXPANDED EDITION has an added 7 new contributions, so PLEASE DO NOT COMBINE with the other editions.

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A group of philosophers, critics, and writers weigh the moral issues involved in a young Jews' response to a dying Nazi's confession of mass murder.

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