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: Harold S. Kushner Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kushner argues “To be forgiven is a miracle. It comes from God, and it comes when God chooses to grant it, not when we order it up.” He goes on to say that God’s forgiveness is something that “occurs inside us, not inside God.” It occurs when one finds the ability to act differently in the future. Thus, Karl should have said to himself that he rejected his Nazi life instead of asking Simon for forgiveness.
Kushner’s argument provides an alternative to those who believe that one cannot be forgiven for murder. Instead of asking forgiveness from the victims, one must fully reject one’s old self. Therefore, Karl doesn’t need to ask Simon for forgiveness, and Simon doesn’t need to grant it.
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Because Karl died shortly after confessing, it is unclear whether he truly repented for his crimes. Furthermore, by summoning one Jew to absolve him of his crimes against other Jews, Kushner doubts whether he has left behind his Nazi prejudice.
Kushner questions, however, whether Karl has truly rejected his old self. In summoning a symbol of a people rather than an individual person, Karl still stereotypes Simon and makes it unclear whether he would have repented if not for his injury and imminent death.
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Forgiving, on the other hand, is not something someone does for someone else. Forgiving is most important for those who are granting forgiveness. Therefore, Kushner writes that, for Simon, forgiveness would mean refusing to let Karl define him as a victim. That would be liberating for Simon, while leaving Karl “chained to his past and to his conscience.”
In line with other Jewish respondents, Kushner looks at the question of forgiveness by prioritizing Simon’s well-being rather than Karl’s well-being. Because Simon is still being defined as a victim, Kushner argues, Karl’s request should be rejected.
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