Berger, who has been teaching The Sunflower for many years, points out that silence is the main character in this morality tale. Simon’s first silence, in Karl’s room, is an instantaneous and confused decision. The second, in Karl’s mother’s home, is a conscious choice and an act of kindness. Berger asks whether these silences are the same.
While the two silences spring from different instincts that Simon has, the end result is the same: a desire for compassion, but a withholding of reconciliation. Simon does not forgive Karl but shows him kindness; Simon does not confirm Karl’s mother’s belief in her son’s goodness, nor does he disabuse her of that idea.
Berger speaks to Simon’s question, wondering if a person is entitled to forgive on behalf of the murdered. He speaks about the two types of sins in Judaism: those committed by humans against God, and those committed by humans against other humans, and that a person cannot forgive someone who has taken the life of another person.
Berger is another example of those who practice Judaism agreeing with Simon’s decision. He draws on Jewish ideas of sin and forgiveness in order to come to the conclusion that Simon acted correctly.
Berger believes that Simon could not and should not forgive Karl. Additionally, in asking for a Jew to hear his confession, Karl continued to perceive the Jews as an “amorphous, undifferentiated mass.”
Berger also points out that in viewing Simon as “a Jew” rather than trying to get to know him as an individual, Karl retained his prejudice.
Berger questions whether Karl’s repentance was sincere, and if it was, whether it is morally possible to be repentant for such horrible crimes. He worries about the idea of “cheap grace” that would presumably allow Karl to go to heaven, while Simon and other Jews would not (based on Catholic tenets). Berger states that if Simon had forgiven Karl, he would have “sealed his own guilt,” because it would have confirmed that the Nazis were beyond the reach of justice—and that would be the “final victory” for Nazism.
Berger finds an interesting intersection between Catholicism and Judaism in the question of whether Karl will go to heaven if Simon forgives him. Presumably, Karl believes he would because he practices Catholicism, and so Berger believes that Simon should not afford him that opportunity even if Simon does not share the same religious beliefs.