The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

by

Simon Wiesenthal

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The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness: André Stein Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Stein asks if Karl even had the right to ask for forgiveness, whether his repentance was authentic, and whether anyone committing crimes against humanity should expect forgiveness. He is dismayed by the eagerness of many to forgive child-killers, torturers, and rapists by placing the blame on an ideology rather than people.
Stein makes a similar argument as Cynthia Ozick when she refers to the idol of Moloch. The argument is that killing in the name of one’s beliefs is exceptionally harmful. Stein worries here that people’s beliefs can be blamed for actions that people carry out—rather than the people themselves.
Themes
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Anti-Semitism and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Stein views true repentance as involving empathy towards the victims. But Karl still thought of the Jew as an object that he could summon and from whom he could expect generosity.
Stein also refers to Karl’s reference to Simon as “a Jew” as evidence that he still holds onto the ideology that led him to kill in the first place.
Themes
Anti-Semitism and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Simon’s silence, Stein writes, is the “only authentic means of communication.” Simon listened with the ears of those who were dead or close to death, as Karl’s story reminded him of Eli, his mother, and his friends. Yet, he still listened to Karl, which served as an immense act of charity.
Stein argues that Simon’s silence was not a silence of indifference in the face of someone who was suffering, but a silence of compassion, because the alternative was to speak (wrongly) on behalf of people who were no longer alive.
Themes
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Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
Stein addresses a few of the other viewpoints that have been raised, arguing that the consequences of participating in genocidal acts should include dying with a guilty conscience. He also wonders why Simon should be expected to act with superhuman goodness towards Karl—i.e., why the victim should be expected to act more morally than the perpetrator.
Stein picks up on the essence of the unfairness of the situation that Simon is put in. Whether consciously or not, Karl and many of the respondents who demand forgiveness are asking Simon to act with extraordinary kindness, while Karl needs to do very little in order to be relieved of his conscience.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Get the entire The Sunflower LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness PDF
Stein states that he is not at peace, however, with Simon’s decision to let Karl’s mother believe in her son’s goodness, stating that millions of people were murdered by a nation of “good sons.” Karl’s parents are not guilt-free in his joining the SS, and Simon enabled Karl’s mother to continue living a lie.
Stein, like Michael Fox, views Simon’s silence as a way of allowing Karl to go unpunished in the memory of his family and of allowing Karl’s mother to remain ignorant of her son’s actions.
Themes
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
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