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: Lawrence L. Langer Summary & Analysis

Langer argues that role-playing about Holocaust reality trivializes the crimes committed, and that discussion should instead focus on Simon’s response. He wonders how someone can repent or be forgiven for an unforgiveable crime.
Langer’s opening point is echoed by many others. Langer wants to make sure that the suffering of the Jewish victims of these crimes is not minimized by allowing others to step into their shoes so easily.
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Langer also brings up a unique point: how Simon’s language shapes the attitude towards the crimes in calling murder “a wrong” and “a misdeed.” Language like this has allowed many criminals to obscure or disappear behind their crimes. This leads Holocaust survivors to sometimes blame themselves for acts or consequences for which they are not responsible.
Language has a large part in the act of remembrance. In using euphemisms for murder, or in simply saying that the Jews “died,” it changes the perception of the crimes in the public eye and in some cases allows Nazis an opportunity to escape responsibility for their crimes entirely.
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The fact that Karl is asking for forgiveness shows to Langer that he does not understand the magnitude of his crimes. Karl is silent on a number of issues, too, failing to explain why he enthusiastically joined the Hitler Youth, why he volunteered for the SS, or why he pursued a career with a league of killers. Simon’s silence, on the other hand, makes him innocent of any wrong.
Langer’s earlier point about language becomes relevant here as well: Karl is very selective in recounting his life story, perhaps to make him appear more innocent or more sympathetic to Simon. Even though the crime that caused his repentance is horrific, it is surely not the only morally deplorable thing he has done.
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