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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Karl’s Mother Character Analysis

A devout Catholic, Karl’s mother objected to Karl joining the Hitler Youth and the SS, but she retained her love for him even when he went to war, unlike Karl’s father, who refused to speak to him. Simon goes to visit Karl’s mother after the war in order to get a fuller picture of Karl. Karl’s mother lives alone following the deaths of her son and husband (who was killed in a factory bombing). She still retains the belief that her son was a good person, and Simon, by remaining silent about his experience with Karl, allows her to continue believing this. Simon understands that she was not guilty of the Nazi’s crimes but still believes that she is culpable as a citizen of a guilty nation.

Karl’s Mother Quotes in The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

The The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness quotes below are all either spoken by Karl’s Mother or refer to Karl’s Mother. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Schocken Books edition of The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness published in 1969.
Smail Balić Quotes

Those who might appear uninvolved in the actual crimes, but who tolerate acts of torture, humiliation, and murder, are certainly also guilty.

Related Characters: Simon, Karl’s Mother, Karl’s father
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:
Matthew Fox Quotes

Willful ignorance is a sin. In this case, a catastrophic sin that made the Holocaust possible.

Related Characters: Simon, Karl, Karl’s Mother
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:
André Stein Quotes

We must not forget that millions were murdered by a nation of good sons. Every woman who doggedly holds on to a pristine moral image of her son is a collaborator in his crime.

Related Characters: Simon, Karl, Karl’s Mother
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Sunflower LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness PDF

Karl’s Mother Character Timeline in The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

The timeline below shows where the character Karl’s Mother appears in The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1: The Sunflower
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
...that he had asked a nurse, who had previously brought him a letter from his mother, to bring a Jewish prisoner to him, but that no one could see her doing... (full context)
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
...up for him. The man thanks him, saying that it is a letter from his mother. Simon thinks that he will never again receive a letter from his mother, who had... (full context)
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Karl continues: his father had been a factory manager and a Social Democrat. His mother brought him up as a Catholic. When he joined the Hitler Youth, he stopped going... (full context)
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
...on to his time in Poland, leading up to his crime. He hopes that his mother never finds out what he did; he supposes she remembers him as the happy, joke-making,... (full context)
Anti-Semitism and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
...had only come into contact with a few Jews before: a family doctor whom his mother trusted exclusively to treat her, and the Jews that worked at an army base in... (full context)
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
...him, and he was moved from one hospital to another. He longs to see his mother, though he knows that his father would only be severe toward him. (full context)
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
...Simon refuses to take the bundle. He tells the nurse to send it to Karl’s mother’s address. (full context)
Remembrance Theme Icon
...a sunflower near them. He remembers Karl, and how lovingly he had spoken of his mother. He recalls her name and address, which had been printed on Karl’s possessions. (full context)
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
...Munich and he stops in Stuttgart on the way so that he can visit Karl’s mother. He is unsure why he wants to talk with her, but hopes that it will... (full context)
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
...he comes to an almost completely destroyed house. He knocks on the door and Karl’s mother answers. He asks her name, which is the same as the one on Karl’s bundle.... (full context)
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Simon stares at the photograph of Karl, and remarks at his uniform. Karl’s mother explains that he was sixteen and in the Hitler Youth at the time. She disapproved... (full context)
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
Simon understands Karl’s mother’s situation: he had spoken to many Germans and Austrians about the Nazis. Most had been... (full context)
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Simon wonders if he should reveal Karl’s crimes to his mother. But he realizes that she was not very different from himself, grieving for the ruin... (full context)
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
Simon tells Karl’s mother that he is a Jew. She becomes embarrassed, and says that she and her husband... (full context)
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
Karl’s mother tells Simon of a time in which a Gestapo official had come to inquire into... (full context)
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Remembrance Theme Icon
Karl’s mother’s stories give Simon a fuller picture of Karl, but do not help Simon in his... (full context)
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
Simon points out that he kept silent at Karl’s deathbed, and then again with Karl’s mother. He wonders about the silence of the bystanders in Nazi Germany as they watched Jews... (full context)
Moshe Bejski
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
...that Simon’s silence in the face of Karl’s statement and his restraint when visiting Karl’s mother “goes beyond what a human being could be expected to do.” (full context)
Alan L. Berger
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Edward H. Flannery
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
...following his silence, and that his feelings are even more evident when he visits Karl’s mother. (full context)
Eva Fleischner
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
...shooing the fly away, by listening and staying, and later by choosing to allow Karl’s mother to keep her memory of her good son intact. Fleischner believes this is a humane... (full context)
Matthew Fox
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
Fox then considers Simon’s visit with Karl’s mother, where Simon let her believe that her son was innocent. He notes that Karl’s mother... (full context)
Yossi Klein Halevi
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
Halevi’s essay thus begins not with Simon and Karl’s visit, but Simon’s visit with Karl’s mother. He sees that Simon rejects an opportunity for “vicarious vengeance” in allowing Karl’s mother to... (full context)
Arthur Hertzberg
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
But Hertzberg also agrees that Simon should not have told Karl’s mother about her son, because each person should die for their own sins, and not for... (full context)
Hubert G. Locke
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
...on the silence throughout The Sunflower: first in Karl’s room and then again at Karl’s mother’s home. He writes that readers should learn from this silence and remain silent themselves, learning... (full context)
André Stein
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
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... (full context)