The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

by

Simon Wiesenthal

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Sunflower can help.

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness: Eugene J. Fisher Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Fisher acknowledges that it is impossible for Christians to “make a moral judgment on Jewish behavior with regard to the Shoah.” He accepts the decisions of those who support Simon’s silence. Fisher also notes, however, that in almost all the responses, there is an uneasiness with the “either/or” notion of forgiving or not forgiving.
Fisher’s comment about the discomfort with either forgiving or not forgiving allows some nuance into the dialogue. Perhaps that nuance is, in fact, the compassion that Simon showed towards Karl, which provided him with comfort but did not compromise Simon’s own morals.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Fisher then explores how Jewish-Christian dialogue has evolved since the first edition of the book. Many Christians question why Jews can’t simply forgive the Holocaust, when forgiveness is so central to Christianity. Fisher argues that Christians must earn forgiveness from Jews, and that it is arrogant to expect forgiveness. Instead, he believes, it is necessary to move towards a reconciliation.
Fisher elaborates on the distinctive beliefs between the two religions in real-world examples, not only as it is explored philosophically in this book. He understands the differences in their philosophies, but also argues that Christians worldwide must earn forgiveness for the crimes that so many of their fellow believers committed.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
When President Reagan visited Bitburg, Fisher notes that it represented the Christian leader of the Allies meeting with the Christian leader of the Germans at a Nazi cemetery to forgive each other for what Christians had done to Jews, which he and many others viewed as ironic.
In a way, if Simon were to forgive Karl, it would be a smaller version of the irony here because Simon would be forgiving in the name of others (although a distinction must be made because Simon is Jewish, unlike the two leaders here).
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Anti-Semitism and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Fisher also brings up some of the things the Catholic Church has done in order to make amends. Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy spoke officially for the Church at the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, stating that its attitude after the Holocaust is one of teshuvah (repentance).
Fisher evokes teshuvah here, but Deborah E. Lipstadt later explains that teshuvah is only part of what earns forgiveness: atonement is the other piece. The Cardinal’s words echo the Christian attitude that repentance is the only thing required for forgiveness.
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
Fisher states that the Christian community is asking for the forgiveness of God because the offense is not only against the Jews but God and humanity as well. But he also believes that the Church must then follow through with better lessons, improved New Testament translations, and “changing the face that Christianity presents to Judaism.”
This distinct perspective is one that adds a layer to the question of God being able to forgive murder; whereas Jews see it as unforgivable because the victims are dead, Fisher reasons effectively that crimes against humanity are in God’s domain.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Anti-Semitism and Dehumanization Theme Icon