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: Robert McAfee Brown Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In 1979, Brown attended a memorial to the Jews who lost their lives defending the Warsaw Ghetto. A friend of his made an address whose theme was clear: never forget, and never forgive. He agrees that never forget is perhaps the clearest lesson from the Holocaust, but is less certain about the second conviction.
The memorials serve the same purpose as books like The Sunflower: they add to a body of work recognizing and remembering the victims of the Holocaust.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Remembrance Theme Icon
Brown thinks of the images of children in the gas chambers or families packed into a house that is set on fire that appear in The Sunflower. He writes that if God forgives such deeds, that strains the idea that God’s universe is a moral one. And if God cannot forgive, then humans cannot forgive.
Brown also seems to identify somewhat with Simon’s loss of faith, as he wonders how God could forgive the mass murder and dehumanization of an innocent people.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Religion and Moral Truth Theme Icon
Anti-Semitism and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Brown contrasts these cases with cases in which forgiveness can make a difference and empower, such as the case of Nelson Mandela, who was jailed for twenty-seven years and then forgave his jailers. He sees this circumstance as building up moral capital and bringing compassion back to humanity.
Desmond Tutu, a later respondent, also brings up the story of Mandela. The difference between Mandela’s story and this one, however, is that he was still alive and could personally forgive his jailers.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
In Simon’s shoes, Brown states that he would have told Karl to address his plea to God. After that, it is the responsibility of people as a whole to be just, to be kind, to walk with God, and to stand with the victims and the oppressed.
Brown’s response, which also denies Karl forgiveness (leaving it to the realm of God) instead supports compassion and virtue on a human level.
Themes
Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Get the entire The Sunflower LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness PDF