The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

by

Simon Wiesenthal

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Sunflower can help.

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness: Moshe Bejski Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Bejski first questions whether he is truly able to relate to these events given that he didn’t share Simon’s experience, and is only able to think about them fifty years after they took place. Bejski writes that, as a Nazi, Karl is a representative of all German Nazis, who collectively committed “abominable crimes” against the Jewish population and were involved in mass exterminations on an immense scale. He thinks Karl’s confession was only brought about because of the imminence of his death, without which he would not have repented and would have continued committing crimes alongside the others.
Bejski’s question about whether Karl is only asking for forgiveness because he is about to die calls into question the sincerity of Karl’s repentance. This refutes the basis of the argument of some of the Christian respondents that Karl deserves forgiveness because he is truly repentant.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Anti-Semitism and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Simon, on the other hand, is only an individual prisoner, a witness to these crimes whose entire family has been annihilated. Bejski describes Simon and Karl as representing two entirely different worlds—one a criminal, the other a victim.
Bejski’s distinction about individuality is interesting: he argues that the Nazi criminals should be thought of as a collective perpetuating a murderous system, whereas the victims should be seen as individuals, each of whose humanity should be valued.
Themes
Remembrance Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
Bejski reveals that he and Simon had many common experiences: he endured labor camps, concentration camps, and extermination camps. He was starved and made to feel subhuman. He is sure that anyone who had been in Simon’s position would not have behaved any differently than Simon. Even if Simon believed he could pardon Karl, Bejski states, this act of mercy would have been a “betrayal and repudiation” of the memory of millions of Jews.
Bejski personally understands the dehumanization that Simon and the others had gone through, and therefore understands his instinct not to forgive because it is more important to honor, remember, and have compassion for the Jewish victims than it is to forgive Karl.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Remembrance Theme Icon
Anti-Semitism and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Bejski doubts whether “religious ethics (Jewish or Christian) or an altruistic conscience could lead to a level of self-sacrificing mercy beyond the ability of a human being.” He points out that religious belief had declined a great deal in the face of God’s silence during the Holocaust, and so it is possible that forgiveness could not be granted in the name of God.
Several of the following respondents are clergyman, and many of them say they would forgive because they believe that God would forgive. Yet Bejski’s point about God’s silence is also valid; Simon may have felt that he could not make a decision based on religious principles because his own faith had been so shaken.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon
Get the entire The Sunflower LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness PDF
Bejski points out that the burden of remembrance is now on the survivors, especially because the German people and the world seem interested in forgetting the Holocaust. He notes the number of Nazi criminals being tracked down is dwindling, and that many of these criminals continue to lead quiet, peaceful lives. In his mind, repentance is not enough to atone for these crimes.
Bejski also highlights the importance of remembrance not only for the victims but also for the perpetrators because they should not be able to escape their guilt so easily. Forgetting the crimes one has committed is an easy way to absolve oneself of blame for those crimes.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Remembrance Theme Icon
Bejski concludes by affirming that Simon’s silence in the face of Karl’s statement and his restraint when visiting Karl’s mother “goes beyond what a human being could be expected to do.”
Bejski’s final point argues that Simon was extremely kind to both Karl and his mother, given the circumstances. Forgiveness, on the other hand, was not an option.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Silence, Guilt, and Resistance Theme Icon