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The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  7,360 ratings  ·  691 reviews
While imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Wiesenthal was taken one day from his work detail to the bedside of a dying SS man. Haunted by the crimes in which he'd participated, the soldier wanted to confess to--& obtain absolution from--a Jew. Faced with the choice between compassion & justice, silence & truth, Wiesenthal said nothing. But even years after the war had ...more
Paperback, Revised and Expanded, 303 pages
Published 1998 by Schocken Books (NY) (first published 1969)
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Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 18, 2007 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 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 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
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. Wiesenthal'
Jin Huh
Sep 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Kathleen Dixon
May 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Erik Graff
Aug 13, 2013 rated it liked it
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 13, 2018 rated it liked it
The story itself is very powerful and does bring this slew of questions into mind. What would you have done? Did he do the right thing? I found myself more thinking of what I had hoped he'd done. But when it comes to the second half of the book, other people's opinions, I found other opinions to be not compelling or annoying. Some I understood and appreciated but most felt like ugh what. In fact, I did not finish that section because i didn't really care about what all these people thought. Some ...more
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, wwii, race
So....I give the Sunflower, Wiesenthal's autobiographical account of his interaction with Karl during WWII and with Karl's mother after the war, a five star rating. Wiesenthal manages to come across as sympathetic and gracious; he writes of horrors but makes them readable and his own willingness to question his actions in spite of the impossibility of the position in which he was put give him (and not the SS man) a superhuman air.

However, the 54..yeah, 54!...essays in response were tortuous to
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 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
A compelling moral conundrum posed by Simon Weisenthal during his ordeal during the Holocaust, followed by the question: what would you have done in his shoes? What follows is a number of scholars, clergyman, religious figures and academics attempting to answer this seemingly impossible question. It was very compelling, introspective, and quotable. It also clearly displayed the difference between forgiveness in Judaism versus Christianity, something of which I was unaware.
Lisa Nemchek
Apr 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What would you do if your persecutor asked for your forgiveness? The writer tells us what he did and the rest of the book are what well known writers and philosophers wrote what their thoughts. They way we answer this question reflects who we're are. Not sure any of us can ever put ourselves in the position of Simon. What this book offers is the opportunity to reflect on what we can do today to make the lives of those currently persecuted better.
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
very outdated. i hated reading the WASP opinions in the back of the book
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
Kathy Maggiacomo
Jun 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it
The Nuremberg Trials is the general name for two sets of trials of Nazis involved in war crimes committed during WWII. The first, and most famous trial, tried the most important and decorated political and military leaders of the Third Reich. The second set of trials for lesser war criminals. This book deals with a different kind of trial in which you, the reader, are the judge. Imagine you are a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp and a dying Nazi soldier ask for your forgiveness for crimes ...more
Jul 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Pamela Stadden
Jun 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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 rated it it was ok
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.
Oct 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Kate Diffley
I think this is a book everyone should read.
This is an analysis essay I wrote for my AP English class. It is about the power and meaning of Silence in the Sunflower. Not my best, but it'll have to do. . .
The Power of Silence in The Sunflower

In The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness, Simon Wiesenthal asks the reader’s personal opinion on the act of forgiveness. Are there crimes so heinous that forgiveness cannot be granted? What must the guilty party do or feel in order to earn the forgiveness of the wronged? And p
I've been thinking a lot about this book, partly because its topic is one of utmost importance and one I've grappled with for years, and partly because I've unintentionally entered a whirl of literature dealing pretty explicitly with forgiveness ("Ghost Boys" and "These Ghosts Are Family").

Simon Wiesenthal's story is, as it should be, the most compelling aspect of this book. The essays are worth reading for their diversity of opinion, ample thought for the reader figuring out forgiveness, but tr
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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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