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: Mark Goulden Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Goulden struggles to write and think about the crimes of the Nazis, stunned by the sheer magnitude of what happened. He notes that of the 4.4 million people who were condemned to Auschwitz (roughly the population of Denmark, only 60,000 were still alive when the camp was liberated, meaning that 98.5% of all deportees were murdered by the Germans.
The magnitude of the crimes certainly puts Karl’s story in perspective. It puts into perspective that if Karl can be forgiven, everyone might be forgiven for their crimes, which leaves a guiltless nation and a mass genocide without a guilty party.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
This prompts Goulden to point out that the burden of guilt lay on all of the Germans—those who participated in those acts and those who let them happen—and believes that the Germans have made no acts of atonement as a nation since the war. He sees that the people of Germany, after only thirty years, have been honored by the president as allies.
Even the magnitude of the statistics that Goulden provides does not nearly do justice to the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis. The numbers amount to murders, but on top of that the visceral horrors of everyday life during the Holocaust (including starvation, humiliation, and torture) are often glossed over.
Themes
Anti-Semitism and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Goulden observes that people don’t want to talk about the mass murder of 6 million people, nor do they want to read about it. There have been euphemisms created for what happened to mask the horrors of what occurred. He understands how easy it is to forget.
Goulden combines the silence that has continued even after the war and the idea of forgetting, arguing that silence is what enables those memories to disappear.
Themes
Remembrance Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
Thus, forgiving should come at a greater price, Goulden asserts. He wonders how any living person could forgive these monstrous acts, and whether humans can expect even God to exonerate the Nazis. Goulden concludes by saying he would have silently left Karl’s deathbed “having made quite certain there was now one Nazi less in the world!”
Goulden adapts an argument made by others—that Simon cannot forgive crimes on behalf of someone else. Goulden views Karl’s acts as part of a mass crime, and an individual person cannot forgive a crime against a people.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
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