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The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

4.08  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,287 Ratings  ·  503 Reviews
While imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Simon Wiesenthal was taken one day from his work detail to the bedside of a dying member of the SS. Haunted by the crimes in which he had participated, the soldier wanted to confess to--and obtain absolution from--a Jew. Faced with the choice between compassion and justice, silence and truth, Wiesenthal said nothing.But even y ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published December 18th 2008 by Schocken (first published 1969)
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Aug 23, 2011 Aileen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simon Wiesenthal is in a Nazi Concentration Camp in Poland and performing physical labor at a local hospital when a nurse comes up to him and says, "Are you a Jew? Come with me." She leads him to a room, in which a catastrophically injured young man lays. The injured man asks Simon to sit and listen to his story.

The young man is a Nazi. He was raised very Catholic and hoped to become a priest before diverting from his plan and becoming a member of the Hitler Youth. He then joined the SS "as soo
Wiesenthal's true story might just be a thought experiment for an Intro to Ethics course, were it not for his writing, which makes this book something loftier. Much less interesting are the short essays that make up the second part of the book. In these, an all-star team of moral authorities (including Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama) offer brief responses to the central dilemma of the story: To what extent are victims of atrocities required or even permitted to forgive their persecutors?

Many o
Jul 21, 2010 Karima rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I gave this book five stars not because of literary style or readability but because of IMPACT, on a very personal level. The theme here is FORGIVENESS: it's meaning, it's affect on our lives, and its limits or limitlessness.
I did not choose this book. My 87 year old Aunt Dominica lent it to me and asked me to read it. She had recently read it and was hungry to discuss it with someone. I look forward to that exchange.
This book is divided into two parts. The first section (a mere 98 pages)is the
Jan Rice
Mar 11, 2013 Jan Rice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology
In this book Simon Wiesenthal takes the first 100 pages to describe an event in his life and the surrealistic dilemma it posed. One day while he was in a Nazi forced labor camp in Poland, his group finished some railroad labor and got put on clean-up duty in a wartime hospital instead. On that day, a nurse chooses him at random, beckons him aside, and confirms the obvious--that he is a Jew. Then he gets taken to the bedside of a dying SS soldier (SS troops being the Nazi elite who ran the Holoca ...more
Aug 25, 2007 Mom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book gathers a diverse collection of responses to a request for forgiveness by a dying soldier for atrocities he took part in. In part, some of the responses tended to gather around perspectives that different faiths had about forgiveness, including a core question of whether some acts can even be forgiven if the person who was wronged was no longer living and could not be asked for forgiveness. The power in the book was to communicate that "forgiveness" is not something to glibly advise so ...more
Jan 04, 2009 Gabrielle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended by Juli Ann -- I'm not sure I'll do this in a sitting; I may mete out the essays between other pieces of fiction.

Well...I'll be honest. I didn't read every essay in the back of the book. I read the ones written by people I have heard of. That was interesting. I enjoyed reading Matthew Fox & Desmond Tutu. Cynthia Ozick's was my favorite response. I think my reading of this holocaust account was made more intense by my experience at the Museum of Tolerance this past summer. Wiesent
Jan 09, 2013 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Tutto nella vita ha il suo prezzo, e io lo pago, e posso guardare in faccia tutti"

Questo libro è stato scritto da Simon Wiesenthal, detto il cacciatore di nazisti, un ebreo nato e vissuto in Polonia, laureato in architettura, sopravvissuto ai campi di sterminio. Dopo la fine della guerra Wiesenthal ha dedicato la sua vita alla ricerca dei nazisti responsabili dell’Olocausto che si erano rifugiati in paesi “amici”, come l’Argentina, il Brasile e il Sud America in generale: per far ciò ha creato
Jin Huh
Oct 31, 2012 Jin Huh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a MUST READ.

When I reviewed over the responses of the greatest minds to master the subject of grace, I found that every individual had to relate to it. No one was Simon nor no one was that Nazi soldier. With every individual’s limited viewing in the court that Wiesenthal has created, they had to relate to it to the best of their ability to decipher what Weisenthal should or should not have done. No one was omniscient. Everyone was tied to his or her limited human experiences and knowledg
Erik Graff
Aug 13, 2013 Erik Graff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: high school ethics classes
Recommended to Erik by: Erin S.
Shelves: philosophy
As given in the book description, this is at once a memoir and a large set of responses to it, most hingeing on the problematics of sin and forgiveness. Appropriately, it is often used as a text in ethics classes.

Personally, I found it distressing for two reasons. The first was because of the memoir itself. Descriptions of concentration camp life and of war are distressing enough, but in this loaded instance when the war is WWII, the camp a Nazi one and the victims the Jewish author and a host o
Jan 08, 2013 Courtnee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school
The Sunflower was quite the interesting read. Wiesenthal did not offer readers a leisurely read. No, he forced each reader think hard and long about his own experience and what they would do if they were ever in his place, one reason I enjoyed reading it. I liked this book because it read like a fictional novel, which is the only type of book I tend to read. Besides that minor point, I adored how the novel made my mind work over deep topics and how it provided me a small gateway into the life of ...more
Patrick Allen
Oct 25, 2012 Patrick Allen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lines in the sand. The best way to describe my understanding of forgiveness as a child was that there were certain things I would forgive, and things "across the line" that I simply could never forget. As an adult I understand the evolving nature of that discussion, but for the most part my childhood did not require this.
Simon Wiesenthal was not so lucky. He endured the ultimate hell on Earth: concentration camps. His narrative and the question he asks at the end strike to the very core of teac
Kathleen Dixon
This is an extraordinary book. Simon Wiesenthal is the “Nazi hunter” who spent his life since the war (WWII) identifying Nazi war criminals in order for them to be brought to trial. For this work he has been honoured by the governments of Italy, the Netherlands, Israel, and the United States. He was born in 1908 in Buczaz, a city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and he studied in Prague and Lvov. He had just begun work in an architectural office in Lvov (Poland) when the Germans invaded. From 194 ...more
Oct 28, 2015 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simon Wiesenthal's story of being an inmate in a concentration camp and being asked by a dying Nazi soldier for forgiveness poses many moral issues for consideration and discussion. Was it Simon's right to grant forgiveness and were his actions just? Was the dying man truly repentant or just guilty and fearful of dying? What of his choice of joining the SS and his choice of Simon as the listener of his last confession? Should Simon have told the soldier's mother something other than what he did? ...more
Pamela Stadden
Jun 25, 2015 Pamela Stadden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While the topic is a self-imposed question that asks all to consider Simon's actions, the story/problem explores our understanding of forgiveness on numerous levels. The essays at the end of the book attempt to explain human actions and place significance on the importance of free will. Forgiveness is about letting go explains one essay; while another essay mentions that if the SS officer was not facing death, his confession would not have happened; and Desmond Tuto explains that forgiveness is ...more
The Sunflower has been on my “to read” list for many years. Simon Wiesenthal’s recounting of his experience at the bedside of a dying SS soldier and the moral dilemma that it inflicted upon him is powerful and devastating. It has shattered all of my overwrought and trivial wisdom about forgiveness. There is no simple solution. Perhaps, Mr. Wiesenthal’s response – silence – is the only real response that could be offered in such a situation. Theologian Matthew Fox says this in his commentary on T ...more
Nov 19, 2014 Connie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read several books by Simon Wiesenthal and all of them are heart wrenching yet thought provoking. The Sunflower was no exception. Reading this book forces you to make the decision, would you be able to forgive this dying Nazi soldier who took part in the torture and suffering of the Jews? I am amazed that Mr Wiesenthal was able to sit for as long as he did listening to this man. It was pretty clear to me that this dying man was still only really concerned with himself and believes that if ...more
This story, like much of the Holocaust canon, carries a distinct weightiness, if only for the scale of human atrocities that were committed--and the fact that we can refer to a canon under which we may subsume genocide as simply a category, but whose umbrella is inclusive of so much more that is so atrocious as to have no equivalent. It is a scale which has yet to be balanced by acts of extraordinary compassion in the face of unmitigated evil, in part, because, true self-sacrifice rarely survive ...more
Jul 03, 2010 Natalie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simon Wiesenthal proposes the question, "What would you have done?" What would I have done? That is an impossible question to answer. I would like to say that I would have forgiven the S.S. officer, but at the same time I would like to say that I would not have forgiven him. Is it my right to forgive on the behalf of others? If so how can I if they are all dead? The novel is mind-boggling for not only me, for for most of those who respond to Simon's debacle.
Here is how I see it. I think that fo
Kathy Maggiacomo
Not a summer read. Too deep but I think it's an important book to read. It's scary to think how a government can have corupt people rise to power, Hitler, and worse is to think how people don't stop it from happening. How could anyone convince "good boys" who were raised with religious beliefs and morals to murder innocent Jews or any group for that matter on such a scale. It shocks me to believe people are capable of shooting down woman, children and unarmed civilians with the belief they are " ...more
Apr 09, 2016 Lynn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was just fascinating. Simon Wiesenthal first relates his experience of being a prisoner in a concentration camp and having a dying Nazi soldier ask him for forgiveness for his crimes against the Jews. Then there are 53 responses by noted theologians, historians, clerics and others as to whether what Mr. Wiesenthal did was right or not.
Some responses focused on who has the right to forgive. Others were really off topic. I found myself underlining passages, writing comments in the margi
Oct 27, 2015 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I give this book 3.5 stars which rounds up to 4.

I read this book for one of my philosophy classes.

This book poses a very interesting ethical dilemma: As a prisoner in a concentration camp, do you forgive a dying SS solider? This book offers numerous responses to this question. Some were a bit repetitive. Some didn't really answer the question at all. But some were really thought provoking.
The first 80ish pages contain the main story and point of this book. The rest of the book is people trying to answer how they would have handled the conundrum the author lays out in the beginning. If a truly penitent person guilty of committing crimes against Jewish people (now dead, partially as a result of his crimes) asks for forgiveness how do you respond? I won't try to clarify the situation any more as it's a complex situation and you should read it in full context before trying to answer. ...more
Jan 18, 2012 Matthew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: don-t-bother
This book provides a clear reminder that survivors of the Holocaust can be bad writers, too. To be fair, I had to read this book because the college where I teach assigned this to all the Freshman. The responses to the question Wiesenthal poses are not interesting either. I will give the book an extra star, though, because I also disapprove of genocide.
A very simple and very heart-wrenching story of a man in a concentration camp who is provided the strange experience of hearing the confession of a dying member of the SS. The book ends with the question, "What would you have done." A thorny ethical question if there ever was one, huh? The edition that I read was followed by commentary by a few dozen thinkers, from atheists to the Dalai Lama to Muslims who had experienced the horrors of Bosnia to Martin Marty. Very thought provoking. The French ...more
Kate Diffley
I think this is a book everyone should read.
Ashley Lauren
Sep 07, 2010 Ashley Lauren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book had me wanting to write my own essay through the whole symposium. I never thought I would end up having such a vivid opinion on the subject, but after reading 53 responses I really felt strongly about my own personal view.

I felt the memoir at the beginning was not nearly as powerful as other Holocaust memoirs that I have experienced previously. I think Simon told it well but didn't reall drag me into it as much as other have. Additionally, I felt that many of the essays in the symposiu
Dec 11, 2012 Phil rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Sunflower is a story of a WWII concentration camp inhabitant and his unexpected encounter with a dying Nazi soldier seeking forgiveness for his crimes against the Jews. The book is written by Simon Wiesenthal who actually lived out the entire experience he portrays in the book. The book is Wiesenthal’s call to the world as he was left always wondering whether or not the Nazi soldier was deserving of forgiveness. The story is accompanied with over fifty responses to Wiesenthal as to whether o ...more
Heidi Gonzalez
Mar 14, 2013 Heidi Gonzalez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is more like 2 books in one. The first is the story and the second is responses from scholars, religious leaders, and country leaders on what they would do or what they believe. Its a difficult question with no right answer.

Since I've never been in that situation its hard to know what I would do, I probably would do just what he did, although it would haunt me. Its hard to forgive, even harder when the person has committed such heinous acts of cruelty. But if we don't forgive, if we reduce
Beth A.
Nov 26, 2008 Beth A. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, holocaust
This book is in two parts, Wiesenthal’s story and “The Symposium.” Several “eminent persons” were invited to answer the question posed at the end of the story, “What would I have done?” The question was, should Wiesenthal have forgiven the Nazi soldier who confessed to killing a Jewish family.

The first part, the story of Weisenthal, his circumstances at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp and the Nazi soldier’s request for forgiveness, was excellent. It wasn’t too descriptive of the horrors he wen
Pritchie Brown
The Sunflower tells the true story of author Simon Wiesenthal’s life during the time of World War II. Simon tells of the struggles of being Jewish during the Nazi’s rule and the devastation they inflicted upon him personally. This novel deals with very heavy material and is a very emotional read.

As a middle grades English education major I think this novel can be taught in a middle school classroom, ideally 7th grade and up, but should be handled with care. While this novel does present the read
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Simon Wiesenthal, KBE, was an Austrian-Jewish architectural engineer and Holocaust survivor who became famous after World War II for his work as a Nazi hunter who pursued Nazi war criminals in an effort to bring them to justice.

Following four and a half years in the German concentration camps such as Janowska, Plaszow, and Mauthausen during World War II, Wiesenthal dedicated most of his life to tr
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