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: Martin E. Marty Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Marty notes that the question of “What would I have done?” becomes “What should I have done?”  Marty disagrees with many of the respondents’ assertion that all persons in a people must act a specific way. He argues that there is one freedom that cannot be taken away from a person: the freedom to choose one’s own attitude in the face of any circumstance.
Marty makes a worthwhile point: that not every person must act the same way, even if they are a part of the same religion. While this seems to contradict some of the patterns seen in the book, it is also true that there are a variety of perspectives, even within each religion, and that every person is entitled to their own moral interpretation of a situation.
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As a Christian, Marty writes that he can only remain silent given Simon’s specific circumstance. He believes non-Jews and especially Christians should not give advice about the Holocaust for a long time.
Like Hubert G. Locke, Marty advises that Christian respondents follow Simon’s silence and remain open to listening and learning. 
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Marty then asks a more general question: is there a situation in which he might withhold forgiveness in the face of true repentance. His first instinct is that more value would come from forgiveness than from its withholding, but he has some reservations.
Marty’s reasoning takes a similar angle as some of the Buddhist respondents, when he asks if there is greater value in (or if less suffering would be caused by) forgiving Karl.
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Marty’s first fear is “cheap grace,” whereby one can commit any number of sins and then be easily forgiven. His second fear is that crimes against a people will be taken less seriously if individual people start forgiving in their name.
Marty’s fear echoes Marcuse’s earlier: that easy forgiveness makes it easier for those crimes to be committed again. Additionally, he worries about the further devaluing of the Jews as a people.
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Get the entire The Sunflower LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness PDF
Marty then addresses whether Germans who do express repentance should be forgiven, and whether it is valuable to prolong a people’s sense of guilt. He mentions his own guilt as a white American, a people who also participated in mass murder and enslavement. He wonders whether drawn-out self-hatred and loss of pride is not what Nazism in part sprang from.
Here Marty disagrees with Simon’s assessment that the silence of the Germans makes them complicit in the crimes (though it is unclear here whether Marty is referring to future or present generations of German people).
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Marty states a final fear: that the victims will be forgotten, or that the Holocaust itself will disappear from memory. Yet Marty still believes that, in the face of these fears, providing forgiveness to someone who is truly repentant can allow both parties to be free.
Marty’s final fear is perhaps one that is echoed by most of the respondents: that the crimes should never be forgotten, even if they are forgiven.
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