Item description for The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal...
Overview Robert Coles, the Dalai Lama, Harold S. Kushner, Albert Speer, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and forty-eight others explore the possibility of forgiving evil, in a volume compiled by the world-famous Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter. Reprint. 20,000 first printing.
Publishers Description While imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Simon Wiesenthal was taken one day from his work detail to the bedside of a dying member of the SS. Haunted by the crimes in which he had participated, the soldier wanted to confess to--and obtain absolution from--a Jew. Faced with the choice between compassion and justice, silence and truth, Wiesenthal said nothing. But even years after the way had ended, he wondered: Had he done the right thing? What would you have done in his place?
In this important book, fifty-three distinguished men and women respond to Wiesenthal's questions. They are theologians, political leaders, writers, jurists, psychiatrists, human rights activists, Holocaust survivors, and victims of attempted genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, China and Tibet. Their responses, as varied as their experiences of the world, remind us that Wiesenthal's questions are not limited to events of the past. Often surprising and always thought provoking, The Sunflower will challenge you to define your beliefs about justice, compassion, and human responsibility.
Simon Wiesenthal was born in 1908 in Buczacz, Galicia, at that time a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was incarcerated between 1941 and 1945 in Buchenwald and Mauthausen and other concentration camps. In 1946, together with 30 other survivors, he founded the Jewish Historical Documentation Center, which was instrumental in the identification of over 1,100 Nazi war criminals. He has been honored by the governments of Italy, the Netherlands, Israel, and the United States. Wiesenthal is the author of many books, including The Murderers Among Us, Justice Not Vengeance, Sails of Hope, and Every Day Remembrance Day. Wiesenthal lives in Austria.
Among the contributors:
Sven Alkalaj, Bosnian Ambassador to the U.S., Moshe Bejski, retired justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, Robert McAfee Brown, leading Protestant theologian, Robert Coles, Harvard professor of social ethics and author, The Dalai Lama, Eugene Fisher, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Matthew Fox, author and leading Episcopalian theologian, Yossi Klein Halevi, Israeli journalist and son of a Holocaust survivor, Arthur Hertzberg, rabbi and author, Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, Hans Konig, Cardinal of Vienna, Harold Kushner, rabbi and best-selling author, Primo Levi, Italian Holocaust survivor and author, Cynthia Ozick, novelist and essayist, Dennis Prager, author and conservative radio commentator, Dith Pran, photographer and subject of the film "The Killing Fields" about the Cambodian genocide, Albert Speer, German Nazi war criminal and author, Tzvetan Todorov, French literary critic, Harry Wu, Chinese human rights activist.
Put yourself in the position of a prisoner in a concentration camp. A dying Nazi soldier asks for your forgiveness. What would you do? In The Sunflower, Simon Wiesenthal raises that question for readers to wrestle with, and they have been passionately doing so ever since.
As a young man imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Wiesenthal was taken one day from his labor brigade to a hospital at the request of Karl, a mortally wounded Nazi soldier. Tormented by the crimes in which he had participated, including the murder of a family with a small child, the SS man wanted to confess to--and if possible, receive absolution from--a Jew. Wiesenthal, left the room in silence, but remained intrigued by the issues the man's request raised about the limits and possibilities of forgiveness. Must we, can we, forgive the repentant criminal, no matter how heinous the crime? Can we forgive crimes committed against others? What do we owe the victims? Twenty-five years after the Holocaust, Wiesenthal asked leading intellectuals what they would have done in his place. Collected into one volume, their responses became one of the most enduring documents of Holocaust literature and a touchstone of interfaith dialogue. This new edition of The Sunflower, issued in honor of the twentieth anniversary of it's publication in the United States, brings together the voices of a new generation of thinkers, including Robert Coles, Matthew Fox, Arthur Hertzberg, Harold Kushner, Dith Pran, the Dalai Lama, Dennis Prager, Tzvetan Todorov, and Harry Wu. Their answers reflect the teachings of their diverse beliefs, and remind us that Wiesenthal's question is not limited only to events of the past.
1. "In his confession there was true repentance," writes Wiesenthal (p. 53). Not all of the commentators agree with him. Many of them think Karl was angling for "cheap grace," and that his remorse exists only because he finds himself facing death. Which point of view do you agree with? Do you think, with literary critic Tzvetan Todorov (p. 251), that the very fact of Karl's expressing remorse makes him exceptional, and therefore deserving of respect?
2. Eva Fleischner found that almost without exception, her Christian students "come out in favor of forgiveness, while the Jewish students feel that Simon did the right thing by not granting the dying man's wish" (p. 139). Do you feel that the Christian and Jewish writers in this volume are similarly divided? Do their differences stem from first-hand experience, or from different notions of sin and repentance, as Dennis Prager suggests? Do any writers in this book seriously suggest forgiveness??and why? Do you believe, with political theorist Herbert Marcuse, that "the easy forgiving of such crimes perpetuates the very evil it wants to alleviate" (p. 198)?
3. Did the mother of the SS man, by her passivity, acquiesce in her son's crimes? Wiesenthal says that people who wanted "only peace and quiet" were "the mounting blocks by which the criminals climbed to power and kept it" (p. 91). Most of the authors in this volume believe that Wiesenthal did the right thing in not telling her about her son's crimes. Psychotherapist Andre Stein, however, disagrees, saying that "Simon had a responsibility toward past and future victims to tell her the truth. And Karl's mother had the responsibility of rising above her personal pain and telling the world what her son had done" (p. 240). Which point of view do you agree with?
4. "I asked myself if it was only the Nazis who had persecuted us. Was it not just as wicked for people to look on quietly and without protest at human beings enduring such shocking humiliation?" (p. 57). Some of the commentators believe that those who were following orders were just as guilty as those who gave them; others, like Dith Pran, draw a moral line between followers and leaders. Would you hold them equally responsible?
5. "Without forgetting there can be no forgiving," says retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Moshe Bejski (p. 116); the Dalai Lama, on the other hand, believes that one must forgive but not necessarily forget. Do you think it is possible to forgive and not forget? How would you differentiate forgiveness and reconciliation?
6. Wiesenthal's friend Josek tells him that no one can offer forgiveness on behalf of another victim. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, "No one can forgive crimes committed against other people" (p. 165). Wiesenthal is not so sure. "Aren't we a single community with the same destiny, and one must answer for the other?" he asks (p. 65). It is a question echoed by the Catholic writer Christopher Hollis when he posits that insofar as Karl's crime was part of "a general campaign of genocide, the author was as much a victim--or likely to be soon a victim--of that campaign as was the child, and, being a sufferer, had therefore the right to forgive" (p. 169). Which point of view do you find more persuasive, Hollis's or Heschel's?
7. Many of the Symposium contributors believe that even as he lay dying, Karl saw the Jews as objects or subhumans, and that his wish to confess to a Jew, any Jew, and a concentration camp prisoner at that, showed that he had learned nothing from his experiences. Do you agree with this?
8. Why does Wiesenthal dream about the little boy Eli (p. 68)?
9. "There are many kinds of silence," Wiesenthal states (p. 97). What messages, positive and negative, does Wiesenthal's own silence convey? What does it tell the dying man? What does it tell to you, the reader?
10. Eugene J. Fisher believes that "we have no right to put Jewish survivors in the impossible moral position of offering forgiveness, implicitly, in the name of the six million. Placing a Jew in this anguished position further victimizes him or her. This, in my reading, was the final sin of the dying Nazi" (pp. 132-33). Literature professor Lawrence L. Langer and writer Primo Levi share this opinion. Do you agree?
11. Jean Amery, Mark Goulden and Cynthia Ozick insist that Karl and the other Nazis should never under any circumstances be forgiven. Do you find their arguments harsh or just?
12. Theologian Robert McAfee Brown acknowledges that "perhaps there are situations where sacrificial love, with forgiveness at the heart of it, can make a difference, and can even empower" (pp. 122-123). He cites Nelson Mandela and Tomas Borge as examples of men who have forgiven wrongs that many might see as unforgivable. Do you think that Mandela's and Borge's situations are comparable with Wiesenthal's? Where do the differences lie?
13. If you believe that Karl should be forgiven, apply Harry James Cargas's reductio ad absurdum (p. 125): If Hitler had repented, should he be forgiven? Why or why not?
14. Is Harry Wu's reaction to Comrade Ma (pp. 255-58) relevant to Wiesenthal's feelings toward Karl?
15. How does collective guilt differ from national guilt? Do you believe that future generations should continue to feel remorse for a previous generation's crimes? Martin E. Marty compares the national guilt visited upon the postwar generation in Germany with our own national guilt for the institution of slavery and the genocide of Native Americans, and questions whether the perpetuation of such feelings is healthy. Do you agree with his position?
16. What do you think of President Reagan's visit to the SS cemetery in Bitberg, Germany? Has reading this book changed your opinions?
17. "I wonder if Simon did not receive his vocation from this dying SS man," writes Episcopal priest Matthew Fox (p. 146). Does this seem a reasonable theory to you? Do you agree with Fox's belief that in hunting down former Nazis, Wiesenthal is actually offering them the opportunity for a moral conversion?
18. Does Simon Wiesenthal's life's work as a Nazi hunter constitute his own response to the question he poses in this book?
Citations And Professional Reviews The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/2004 page 59
Wilson Public Library Catalog - 12/31/2008 page 74
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More About Simon Wiesenthal
Simon Wiesenthal was born in 1908 in Buczacz, Galicia, at that time a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was incarcerated between 1941 and 1945 in Buchenwald and Mauthausen and other concentration camps. In 1946, together with 30 other survivors, he founded the Jewish Historical Documentation Center, which was instrumental in the identification of over 1,100 Nazi war criminals. He has been honored by the governments of Italy, the Netherlands, Israel, and the United States. Wiesenthal is the author of many books, including The Murderers Among Us, Justice Not Vengeance, Sails of Hope, and Every Day Remembrance Day. Wiesenthal lives in Austria. Among the contributors: Sven Alkalaj, Bosnian Ambassador to the U.S., Moshe Bejski, retired justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, Robert McAfee Brown, leading Protestant theologian, Robert Coles, Harvard professor of social ethics and author, The Dalai Lama, Eugene Fisher, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Matthew Fox, author and leading Episcopalian theologian, Yossi Klein Halevi, Israeli journalist and son of a Holocaust survivor, Arthur Hertzberg, rabbi and author, Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, Hans Konig, Cardinal of Vienna, Harold Kushner, rabbi and best-selling author, Primo Levi, Italian Holocaust survivor and author, Cynthia Ozick, novelist and essayist, Dennis Prager, author and conservative radio commentator, Dith Pran, photographer and subject of the film "The Killing Fields" about the Cambodian genocide, Albert Speer, German Nazi war criminal and author, Tzvetan Todorov, French literary critic, Harry Wu, Chinese human rights activist.
Reviews - What do customers think about The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness?
Can repentant perpetrators of atrocities be forgiven? Dec 14, 2007
Simon Wiesenthal is best known as the man who had been indefatigable and single-minded in trying to bring Nazi criminals to justice as long as there was a single one of them left. For him this was an absolute moral imperative and something that he felt he owed to the memory of the murdered millions of Jews, of whom Wiesenthal could so easily have been one: he was the survivor of a succession of concentration camps: the Janowska camp outside Lvov, Plaszow (the camp of Schindler's List), Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen, and finally Mauthausen. It may come as a surprise to some readers that Wiesenthal was sensitive to the moral problems raised by the issue of forgiveness - yet this book is a moving meditation on that theme. According to his biographer, Hella Pick, Wiesenthal had `always considered it his most important book'.
Cruelty and casual murder were everyday occurrences in the Janowska camp, and are described in gut-wrenching detail in the first half of this episode from Wiesenthal's life. While doing slave labour at a military hospital near the camp, he was secretly brought to the death-bed of Karl, a gravely wounded 21-year old SS officer whose conscience was wracked - not just at death's door, but apparently immediately after the event - by his participation in a horrific massacre of Jews in Dnepropetrovsk. The officer got a nurse to find `a Jew', who happened to be Wiesenthal, to whom he could make his confession and from whom he could seek forgiveness. Wiesenthal wanted to get away; but something - apart from the dying man's grip - made him stay to hear him out. A Catholic priest later told him that that alone should have helped the man to die in peace, since confession and genuine repentance are more important than any absolution. But at the end Wiesenthal left the room without saying anything. Quite apart from the sufferings he was himself undergoing at the hands of the SS just then and from his expectation of death at their hands at any moment, it was not for him to offer forgiveness on behalf of the victims of Dnepropetrovsk. But the issue haunted him - had he done the right thing? After the war he sought out the SS man's mother. The young man had come from a devout and Social Democrat family who were distressed when their son had joined the Hitler Youth and even more when he had volunteered to join the SS. But the mother was convinced that her son had been a good man. Wiesenthal said nothing to her about what her son had done... The short but haunting book charges the reader to put himself in Wiesenthal's shoes and to ask himself `What would I have done?'
Before publishing his book in 1969, Wiesenthal sent his manuscript to a number of distinguished thinkers for their response, and the comments of ten of them were included in the first edition. Further contributions were made by others to the 1997 and 1998 editions: there are now 53 altogether, and they make up nearly two-thirds of the book. They include - to name only the most famous - those of the Dalai Lama, Cardinal König, Primo Levi, Deborah Lipstadt, Herbert Marcuse, and Desmond Tutu.
Some of the respondents seem to me to veer away from the question Wiesenthal had posed, and draw a distinction between forgetting and forgiving; others discuss the question of collective guilt (some reject it; others blame all the bystanders) - interesting, but irrelevant in the context of this story. Almost all agree that whilst individuals can forgive offences committed against themselves, no human can forgive in the name of other victims. In such cases, if the victims cannot be asked because they are dead, perhaps only God can be asked for forgiveness - though one respondent says that God was hardly fit to forgive something which He had after all allowed to happen. And the Jewish tradition has it that even God will not forgive the unpardonable sin of murder. It is unpardonable, because it is the one sin for which reparation is impossible. The Christian tradition, basing itself on Jesus asking God to forgive them, `for they know not what they do', and on the idea that you must hate the sin, but not the sinner, shaped the answer of some Christian respondents. Some say that forgiveness is not only a boon to the penitent, but also for the victim, freeing him from the burden and poison of hate. Two Asian contributors, one a survivor from the Khmer Rouge and the other a victim of the Cultural Revolution in China, blame only the top leadership, and have some understanding for those who were brainwashed.
One respondent hopes that Karl will rot in hell; others also refuse to accept the genuineness of his repentance, indeed stress the offensiveness of him putting a Jew - chosen not as an individual but picked at random - under the moral burden of hearing the confession and being asked to forgive. Wiesenthal at least saw Karl as an individual and is capable of some compassion towards the dying man and later towards his mother (but one respondent thinks that Wiesenthal did wrong to shield her from the knowledge of what her son had done).
These are just some of the responses to Wiesenthal's question. It is a question addressed to all of us, and it is not surprising that this book has been used as a text in many courses on the Holocaust.
The Sunflower Nov 21, 2007
Multiple issues arrived ahead of schedule and are in new condition.The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (Newly Expanded Paperback Edition)
Gets you thinking Aug 25, 2007
A wonderful short story of 100 pages, written very well. The opinions of all the commentators afterwards on Wiesenthals dilemma is very intriguing. This book gets you involved, and could be the best book ever written on the topic of forgiveness. You just can't help but think deeply about the author's decision to forgive, and also about forgiveness in your own life.
Wonderful book! Aug 13, 2007
This book is a must for anyone who wants to understand the mortal dilemas which affected those who suffered so much from the violence of the holocaust. Amazing that ther author was able to retain his huaminity in the face of such evil, and a testament to his moral character.
The Sunflower Feb 19, 2007
This book focuses on a cogent question by way of a true story and invites response from all sorts of people with pertinent experience, providing biographies of these respondents. The topic is forgiveness. I found the analysis by Dennis Prager, an L.A. talk show host, the most understanding of Christian/Jewish outlooks and Jose Hobday's perhaps the best of the Christian contributions. I am eager to discuss it with members of my theology group.