The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness
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The Sunflower is a book on the Holocaust by Simon Wiesenthal re-tracing his steps to a personal question of forgiveness. The book recounts Wiesenthal's experience in the Lemberg concentration camp and discusses the moral ethics of the matter. The title comes from Wiesenthal's observation of a German military cemetery, seeing a sunflower on each grave, and fearing his own placement in an un-marked, mass grave. The book's second half is a symposium of answers from various people, including Holocaust survivors and former Nazis. The book was originally published in France.
At the Lemberg Concentration Camp in 1943, Wiesenthal is summoned to the bedside of the dying Nazi soldier Karl Seidl. The soldier tells him he is seeking "a Jew's" (Wiesenthal's) forgiveness for a crime that has haunted him (Seidl) his entire life. The man confesses to him having destroyed, by fire and armaments, a house full of 300 Jews. He states that as the Jews tried to leap out of windows to escape the burning building, he gunned them down. After Seidl finishes his story, he asks Wiesenthal to forgive him. Weisenthal then leaves the room without speaking to the dying soldier any further. He then poses the ethical dilemma of whether or not to forgive Seidl to the reader.
In the current edition of the book, there are 53 responses given from various people, up from 10 in the original edition. Among respondents to the question are theologians, political leaders, writers, jurists, psychiatrists, human rights activists, Holocaust survivors, former Nazis and victims of attempted genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, China and Tibet. Some say forgiveness ought to be awarded for the victims' sakes, others that it should be withheld in this case.