The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness
The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness is a book on the Holocaust by Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal, in which he recounts his experience with a terminally wounded Nazi during World War II. The book describes Wiesenthal's experience in the Lemberg concentration camp and discusses the moral ethics of the decisions he made. The title comes from Wiesenthal's observation of a German military cemetery, where he saw a sunflower on each grave, and fearing his own placement in an unmarked mass grave. The book's second half is a symposium of answers from various people, including other Holocaust survivors, religious leaders and former Nazis. The book was originally published in German by Opera Mundi in Paris, France in 1969. The first English translation was published in 1970.
In 1943, at the height of both World War II and the Holocaust, a group of forced labourers from the Lemberg concentration camp are sent to a converted army hospital to clear medical waste. Simon Wiesenthal is summoned from this work detail by a nurse to the bedside of a dying Nazi soldier, Karl Seidl. The soldier tells him he is seeking "a Jew's" forgiveness for a crime that has haunted Seidl since it was committed one year prior. Over a number of hours, Seidl tells Wisenthal his life story, including joining Hitler Youth and his experiences in the SS. He then confesses to having participated in the destruction, by fire and armaments, of a house full of 300 Jews. He states that as the Jews tried to leap out of windows to escape the burning building, he and the other soldiers gunned them down.
After Seidl finishes his story, he asks Wiesenthal to forgive him. Wiesenthal then leaves the room without saying anything. The next day, the nurse informs Wiesenthal that the soldier has died. The nurse tells him that Seidl has left his belongings to him, but Wiesenthal refuses to take them, telling the nurse to have them sent to Seidl's mother. Wiesenthal ruminates on whether or not he should have forgiven Seidl through the rest of his experiences in the concentration camp system. After the war, he finds Seidl's mother, who in their conversation unintentionally confirms the details of her son's story. Seidl's mother asks him how he knew his son, but Wiesenthal lies and leaves without telling her of her late son's participation in the Holocaust. He then poses the ethical dilemma of whether or not he should have forgiven Seidl to the reader, after which a variety of responses from a diverse group of individuals is given.
In the latest 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. The responses vary. Some respondents write that forgiveness ought to be awarded for the victims' sake; others respond that it should be withheld. Others do not say definitively whether or not forgiveness was the right thing.
List of responses
|Sven Alkalaj||Bosnian||Diplomat and politician||Judaism||Uncertain|
|Jean Améry||Austrian||Essayist; Holocaust survivor||Judaism||Uncertain|
|Moshe Bejski||Israeli; Polish-born||Judge; President of Yad Vashem's Righteous Among the Nations Commission; Holocaust survivor||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|Alan L. Berger||Professor of Religion and Holocaust studies; Author||Do not forgive|
|Robert McAfee Brown||American||Minister; Activist; Theologian; Professor of Theology and Ethics; Author||Christianity (Presbyterian)||Uncertain|
|Harry James Cargas||American||Professor; Holocaust scholar; Author||Christianity (Roman Catholic)||Do not forgive|
|Robert Coles||American||Author; Psychiatrist; Professor||Do not forgive|
|The Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso)||Tibetan||Spiritual leader; Activist; Nobel Peace Prize laureate||Buddhism (Tibetan)||Forgive|
|Eugene J. Fisher||Catholic Bishop; Author; Scholar of Interreligious studies||Christianity (Roman Catholic)||Uncertain|
|Edward H. Flannery||American||Catholic Priest; Author; Activist against anti-Semitism||Christianity (Roman Catholic)||Forgive|
|Eva Fleischner||Professor of Religion; Author||Do not forgive|
|Matthew Fox||President of University of Creation Spirituality; Author; Priest||Christianity (Episcopalian); formerly Roman Catholic||Do not forgive|
|Rebecca Goldstein||American||Philosopher; Author||Judaism (Orthodox)||Do not forgive|
|Mary Gordon||American||Professor of English, Barnard College; Author||Christianity (Roman Catholic)||Do not forgive|
|Mark Goulden||British||Journalist; Publisher||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|Hans Habe||Austrian; Hungarian-born||Author; Publisher; Jewish descent||Christianity (Protestant)||Uncertain|
|Yossi Klein Halevi||Israeli; American-born||Author; Journalist; Son of Holocaust survivor||Judaism||Uncertain|
|Arthur Hertzberg||American; Polish-born||Rabbi; Author; Scholar; Activist||Judaism (Conservative)||Do not forgive|
|Theodore M. Hesburgh||American||Priest; Professor; President of University of Notre Dame||Christianity (Roman Catholic)||Forgive|
|Abraham Joshua Heschel||American; Polish-born||Rabbi; Theologian; Philosopher; Professor; Author||Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative)||Do not forgive|
|Susannah Heschel||American||Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College; Scholar; Daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|José Hobday||American||Franciscan nun; Author; has written about Catholic and Native American spirituality; of Seneca, Iroquois and Seminole descent||Christianity (Roman Catholic)||Forgive|
|Christopher Hollis||British||Journalist; Author; former Member of Parliament||Christianity (Roman Catholic)||Forgive|
|Rodger Kamenetz||American||Poet; Author; Professor of Religious Studies at Louisiana State University||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|Cardinal Franz König||Austrian||Cardinal; Archbishop of Vienna; Theologian; Scholar||Christianity (Roman Catholic)||Forgive|
|Harold S. Kushner||American||Rabbi; Author||Judaism (Conservative)||Do not forgive|
|Lawrence L. Langer||American||Scholar; Professor; Holocaust analyst; Author||Do not forgive|
|Primo Levi||Italian||Author; Chemist; Holocaust survivor||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|Deborah E. Lipstadt||American||Historian; Author; Professor; Holocaust scholar||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|Franklin H. Littell||American||Holocaust scholar;||Christianity (Methodist)||Do not forgive|
|Hubert G. Locke||Professor; Holocaust scholar||Uncertain|
|Erich H. Loewy||Professor of Bioethics, University of California Davis||Do not forgive|
|Herbert Marcuse||German; American||Philosopher; Sociologist; Political theorist; Author||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|Martin E. Marty||American||Religious scholar||Christianity (Lutheran)||Forgive|
|Cynthia Ozick||American||Author||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|John T. Pawlikowski||American||Priest; Professor of Social Ethics; Advocate for Catholic-Jewish relations||Christianity (Roman Catholic)||Do not forgive|
|Dennis Prager||American||Author; Theologian||Judaism (Orthodox)||Do not forgive|
|Dith Pran||American; Cambodian||Photojournalist; survivor of Cambodian genocide; subject of The Killing Fields||Forgive|
|Terence Prittie||British||Journalist; Author;||Do not forgive|
|Matthieu Ricard||French||Author; Buddhist Monk; PhD in Molecular Genetics||Buddhism (Tibetan)||Forgive|
|Joshua Rubenstein||Regional director for Amnesty International USA; Fellow of Russian Studies||Do not forgive|
|Sidney Shachnow||American; Lithuanian-born||Major General, U.S. Army; Purple Heart Recipient; Green Beret; Holocaust survivor||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|Dorothee Sölle||German||Theologian; Author||Christianity (Lutheran)||Uncertain|
|Albert Speer||German||Minister of Armaments and War Production for Nazi Germany; Chief Architect to Adolf Hitler; Nazi party member; Accepted moral responsibility at the Nuremberg trials; known as the "Nazi who said sorry"||Do not forgive|
|Manès Sperber||Austrian-French||Author; Psychologist||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|André Stein||Professor; Psychotherapist; Author; Holocaust survivor||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|Nechama Tec||American; Polish-born||Professor of Sociology; Author; Holocaust survivor||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|Joseph Telushkin||American||Rabbi; Author||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|Tzvetan Todorov||Bulgarian; French||Historian; Philosopher; Sociologist; Author||Do not forgive|
|Desmond Tutu||South African||Social rights activist; Politician; Anglican Bishop; Author||Christianity (Anglican)||Forgive|
|Arthur Waskow||American||Rabbi; Author; Political activist||Judaism||Do not forgive|
|Harry Wu||American; Chinese-born||Advocate for human rights in China; survivor of 19 years in Chinese labor camps||Do not forgive|
- Simon., Wiesenthal, (1997). The sunflower : on the possibilities and limits of forgiveness. Cargas, Harry J., Fetterman, Bonny V., Mazal Holocaust Collection. (Rev. and expanded, 2nd ed.). New York: Schocken Books. ISBN 0805241450. OCLC 35718520.
- "THE SUNFLOWER by Simon Wiesenthal | Kirkus Reviews". Kirkus Reviews. April 23, 1976.
- "The Sunflower Synopsis". Facing History and Ourselves. Retrieved 2018-10-14.
- Wiesenthal, Simon (1998). The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. New York: Schocken Books. pp. 101–288. ISBN 978-0-8052-1060-6.