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: Eva Fleischner Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Fleischner believes that Simon responds to Karl’s request for forgiveness nonverbally throughout their interaction, by holding Karl’s hand, by 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 response.
Fleischner notes the small acts of consideration that Simon shows toward Karl as examples of Simon’s immense compassion, even if he remains silent on the issue of forgiveness.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
Fleischner notes that, as she has taught The Sunflower over the past twenty years, interesting patterns emerge: the Christian students rule in favor of forgiveness, while the Jewish students believe that Simon acted correctly.
The patterns that Fleischner observes are the very same patterns that can be observed in the responses of the authors in this section of the book.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Fleischner tries to get to the bottom of this difference, understanding that the two religions have so much in common. Both believe in a merciful God, and both stress the need for repentance.
Even small differences in the beliefs of religions can lead to big differences in the actions of the practitioners when it comes to questions of how to lead a moral life.
Themes
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Fleischner attributes the difference to two factors: the first is a widespread misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching to “turn the other cheek.” This is applied to a wrong done to oneself, not against another. Fleischner extends this to argue that only the victims are in a position to forgive, and therefore Simon could not have granted Karl’s request.
Fleischner’s argument draws on an interpretation of Christian doctrine that falls in line with the opinions held by many Jewish respondents when they argue that only the victims of Karl’s crimes can forgive him.
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
The second factor Fleischner finds in the differences between the two religions relates to atonement. Before the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, Jews look back over the previous year and ask forgiveness of those that they have wronged. Only after doing this may Jews then ask for forgiveness from God.
Perhaps this provides some insight for the respondents who question why Karl did not ask for a priest to hear his confession, but instead asked Simon to hear his confession. It is possible he believed that he needed to ask forgiveness of others before God.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Fleischner points out that Karl cannot atone for his crime, because the victims are dead, and that Simon cannot forgive Karl in their name. She thinks that Simon perhaps could have said to Karl that he could not forgive him, but that God might grant Karl mercy.
Following the logic of Fleischner’s previous point, Karl should have asked God to forgive him in the absence of his victims, not another person against whom he did not sin directly.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
However, Fleischner immediately qualifies this statement, believing that that asks a great deal of Simon in his situation. She also states that, rereading the story, she is struck by how oblivious Karl seems to Simon’s suffering as he makes his confession. She questions whether Karl could have tried to help the fate of at least a few Jews before he died, rather than summoning one to his bedside.
Ultimately, Fleischner argues that Karl’s missteps in asking for forgiveness come down to the idea that he still seems unaware of the suffering that the Nazis at large are causing (even if he acknowledges his own guilt) and doesn’t seem to try to atone in any fashion, merely asking for his own forgiveness.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon