The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness


Simon Wiesenthal

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The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness: Joshua Rubenstein Summary & Analysis

Rubenstein views Karl’s crimes as common in a century filled with violence, citing Cambodia, Rwanda, and Latin America. For him, Simon’s encounter with Karl brings to mind an incident involving Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer SS and chief of the German police, in which he acknowledged how difficult it must be to commit mass murder and remain a normal human being.
The story of Himmler demonstrates that the Nazis believed their biggest obstacle was not killing the Jews, but ensuring that the German people retained their humanity while doing so. It is staggering to Rubenstein that Himmler does not realize how untenable those two ideas are, and how the Nazis have lost both their humanity and any moral standing.
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Rubenstein writes that he is completely indifferent to Karl’s plea for forgiveness, because Karl seems to have been motivated more by his approaching death than by the enormity of his crimes. Rubenstein concludes that Simon was merciful enough with Karl. To grant forgiveness as well would have been a betrayal of his and his family’s suffering.
Rubenstein views Simon’s actions of kindness and compassion as going far beyond what Karl deserves; Karl’s repentance, on the other hand, was brought about less by his conscience and more by his fear of retribution in death.
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