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: Sven Alkalaj Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Alkalaj introduces himself as Jewish-Bosnian, and states that he now finds himself “confronted with the same question and dilemma posed by The Sunflower.” After the Nuremberg Trials, the world thought that what had happened to European Jews would not happen again, but he points out that there are many parallels between what took place during World War II and what took place in Bosnia decades later, as human life was radically devalued in both cases.
Presumably, Aljalaj means that he finds himself faced with the question of whether to forgive. Alkalaj’s words demonstrate how slippery to slope can be from prejudice to dehumanization under the right circumstances. Additionally, Alkalaj’s response points out a pattern that many of the respondents follow, which is to state their religion as a means of partially explaining their response.
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Alkalaj believes that there are very few who are able to answer Simon’s question accurately because they have not endured his suffering. He describes his own experience scavenging for food and living in tunnels, watching entire families perish around him.
Alkalaj’s statement implies that judging Simon’s situation as a universal morality tale is dangerous because he had been in such specific and uniquely torturous circumstances.
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Alkalaj states that forgetting the crimes that have taken place would be worse than forgiving the criminal, because forgetting the crimes “devalues the humanity that perished in these atrocities.” He also argues that Simon had no right to forgive on behalf of Karl’s victims.
Alkalaj is the first of many who highlight the importance of remembrance, but he of all the respondents perhaps is the most invested in this idea because, as he stated earlier, the world thought this could never happen again, but the Bosnian genocide still occurred. 
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Related Quotes
Alkalaj continues by speaking about collective guilt and punishment, noting that he does not believe in collective guilt but does believe in national responsibility, and that there must be some kind of reconciliation with those who stood by while atrocities were carried on.
Alkalaj makes a distinction between guilt and responsibility—a distinction that Simon had also implied. Karl’s mother, for example, was not guilty of her son’s crimes, but her denial and silence surrounding them makes her partially responsible.
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The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness PDF
Alkalaj does not definitively answer Simon’s question about whether he would forgive, but he ends by saying that “to forget is unthinkable,” and that people must be held accountable for valuing their own lives over the lives of their fellow men and women.
In his conclusion, Alkalaj seems to imply that memory can also be a punishment, in the sense that dehumanizing others comes with the price of remembering the crimes one has committed.
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Forgiveness and Compassion Theme Icon
Remembrance Theme Icon
Anti-Semitism and Dehumanization Theme Icon