Beth A.'s Reviews > The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal
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's review
Nov 26, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction, holocaust
Read in November, 2008 , read count: 1

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 went through, but it clearly showed the hopeless he felt.

The Symposium was not as interesting, the articles were for the most part dry and repetitive. Some said he was wrong to deny him forgiveness, some said it would have been wrong for him forgive the man because he was not the one who had been injured. Many emphasized that to forgive would encourage future wrongs. Many quoted Jesus and his commandment to forgive. Some stated that only God could forgive. A few mentioned that instead of forgiveness, a little compassion would probably have helped the soldier.

One insightful contributor talked about how forgiveness is a “verbal formula.” “The forgiver can purge himself of feelings of anger and hatred and revenge by a conscious decision to consider the matter closed, while the forgiven can feel at peace with himself when the person whom he has injured forgives him.

My personal beliefs are Christian; I do believe He commanded us to forgive, and that we will be healed as we forgive. But even if he had held those beliefs, how could Weisenthal be expected to forgive while he was currently undergoing the atrocities. He would go home from the hospital to cruelty, humiliation, forced labor, and the constant threat of death. I cannot believe that I would have done any different.

So, I enjoyed pondering this question, but I really wouldn’t recommend The Symposium part of the book to many people. Wiesenthal’s story, however, is worth reading.
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11/24/2008 page 10

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