The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

About The Author

     Simon Wiesenthal is one of the many victims of the Nazi assault. As one of the people who were greatly affected by the Second World War, Wiesenthal has been among those who were able to extend their emotions towards others through writing. The emotions that he has posted through his writing are not simply emotional implications of the past that he has experienced as a prisoner of the Nazi assault. His writings were more of the description of the different systems that particularly affected his personality as an individual.

Through his written work entitled “The Sunflower”, he intended to portray the exact experiences that he once felt during the Nazi era and focused on the particular encounter that he had with one of the officers who longed for forgiveness from any Jew with whom he could talk to before he even died. The ethical aspect then to give attention in this particular writing is the question raised by the author himself, which is pertaining to the limitations and the possibilities of providing forgiveness to others who have severely sinned against blood.

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In this writing, he raises the issue on the ethical standards of forgiving and the impact that the past experiences places on the individual’s decision of forgiving.

About the Book

     The history of the Nazi regime certainly left an important impact on the lives of those who were primarily affected by the said historical event. Moreover, the said event in history erased the names of millions of people and made it possible for social hatred to occur between groups of people against the Nazi administration.

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Within the historical notes pertaining to the reports on those people who were killed during the said era, the Jewish population among all the others have received the highest rate of brutal imprisonment and treatment that brought them towards their death. This dark past of the human history actually notes the active imperialistic procedures that humans could actually perceive upon their fellow in search for power and authority over all.

     The ethical standards of humanitarian law have been strongly identified yet have been disregarded by the Nazi administration as per primarily lead by Adolph Hitler. For the sake of absolute authority over others, many officers used their power in an absolute application that life became less-important in their eyes simply because they would want to attain absolute power over the lives of other people in the society.

The outlined description of the author of the book with regards the particular issues noted above that conform the World War II with the questions regarding ethics and humanitarian law actually awakens the spirit of the readers as to how they would particularly relate to the situations that the character[s] within the narration of the author pertains to. Understanding the entire context of the book primarily helps the readers realize the importance of history with regards the establishment of the humanitarian laws that the society at present recognizes. Moreover, it also points out the standards of social recognition that every individual possesses in terms of being able to forgive those who have actually made the worst-case scenario of the human history possible of existing.

Content and Summary

     The Nazi era brought so much strife within the memories of those who survived its hideous challenges to life. Living a normal life back in those times has been a vague possibility for many, especially for that of the Jews. It is as if those years were simply an implication of one’s capability of living his life towards death. Those groups of people who did not find favor in the eyes of the Nazi administration, as lead by Adolph Hitler, indeed found it hard to live their everyday lives without being threatened and their breaths put into an end. During those years, life could be ended in so many different ways that include starvation, disease, a bullet in the neck, gas chamber, beatings, hanging, guillotine, and drowning, which has been noted to be a special refinement of death to many.

     Once an individual is secluded from the society and placed within the concentration camps, he is at least given the vision that in anyway anyhow, he is going to end up dead. This made life for the people of the said era a worthless pursuit that would only give them the pains of being brutally treated by the government. Those who were scared of the administration pretended that they are considerably favorable of the situation that they became a part of the brutal army of Hitler who primarily initiated the deaths of the man millions of Jews and other groups of people as well.

Many among those who were simply scared and were accepted to join the army watched their fellowmen die in concentration camps while they have been given harsh treatments during the seclusion that they have experienced before they were executed. Although these men may not want to see all these events happen before their eyes, it is undeniable that they are subjected to the guilt that has been brought upon them by the situation.

     Since the era of the World War II started, death became a common thing in the society. Everywhere, there was bloodshed. People, young and old, men and women received the painful fate of dying in the hands of those people who wanted worldwide political recognition all for the sake of greed and aims of fame for the said authorities [Adolph Hitler in particular]. It is from this perspective that the SS Officer named Karl Siedl has been pictured within the narration of the author. Simon[the author] actually met this man before he died. Apparently, he asked his nurse to get any Jewish prisoner that has been captivated to be brought to him.

The reason was unclear at first, however, when Simon went in the room, he was surprised to hear the said officer confess to him of the different crimes he has committed against the humanitarian law. The conflict of his appointment as an officer and his belief upon the sacredness of life has been jeopardized by the tasks that he needed to complete for the Nazi administration. Like other officers, he was able to witness the death of unnumbered people who were innocent yet have been captivated and have been put to death is such brutal ways. His aim in calling a Jew to confess to him what he has done is to actually ask for forgiveness for all the things that he has done to the entire population of the said group.

As a representative of the many Jews who have already died and those who are still waiting for their own deaths during that particular era, Simon has been asked by Siedl for forgiveness. Stunned by the situation, Simon was not able to respond. Recalling the hardships that he and his friends as well as his family suffered in the hands of the Nazi officers, he was unable to decide as fast as he was supposed to. Saying he has forgiven that man would actually mean that the Jews have already forgiven him.

Simon felt that somehow, he is not capable of answering the question for the sake of all the others who have had established their hatred and revenge to the said administration. Apparently, the dying man in front of him is a part of that particular administration that he himself detests. The man died without hearing his answer. Perhaps still longing to hear what Simon has to say, he waited until his last breath for the forgiveness that he longed to hear. However, his attempt to ask for an apology has not been granted.

Simon then asks his readers on what they would have done if they were caught in the same situation. Would they have answered the question immediately? Or would they have done the same thing as Simon himself did? These questions has been raised by the author to open the minds of the readers towards the difference of the capabilities and the limitations of human individuals regarding the recognition of forgiveness of several types of sins against humanitarian laws.

The Reaction of Other Authors Upon the Question Raised By Wiesenthal

      THEODORE M. HESBURGH is a Catholic Priest who has been known all his life for his practices of being a forgiving individual. Primarily, this may have been caused by the fact that he is in “business’ of forgiving others as he was naturally trained to do so as part of his responsibilities as a priest.

Henceforth, his reaction to the question raised by the author of the book is that it is necessary for one to forgive the past to be able to move on to a better future. It is according to his theory of forgiving that one is able to realize the need of giving others [even those who have severely erred against the human laws] a chance to prove that they too could repent from their sins and exchange their past troublesome dealings with sensible acts at present. To him, the act of the SS Officer has been much remarkable since it manifested that he knows and accepts that he has sinned against his fellowmen.

     SUSANNAH HESCHEL on the other hand is more focused on the social effect of the situation. As noted earlier, Simon stood as representative of the entire population of Jews in front of that SS Officer. Forgiving him immediately would have meant that his brothers (the Jews) have also forgiven the transgressions made possible by the said individual against others.

Heschel then points out that if the apology has been granted by Simon, it would have appeared that he simply accepts what that person has done towards the innocent people of the said era. It must be remembered too that the human population primarily affected by the said incident were not the Jews alone. There were significant other groups who were imprisoned within concentration camps and were killed brutally by the officers of the Nazi administration

     To her, the question of Simon was more of a social issue that pertains to the social oppression that is inflicted by those who are powerful towards those who are weak. Forgiving the man after he dies would have meant that the humanitarian laws that he along with his colleagues broke would be disregarded just as simple as that. Not forgiving him or at least not allowing him to feel refreshed of what he has done shall reflect the different transgressions [psychological and emotional] that his colleagues should feel about what they have done to the humanity.

     As for the author of this review, it is undeniable that forgiveness is one particular aspect in human relationship that is somewhat considered the hardest provision to dispose. As per noted through research, Writer Terrence Des Pres explains: “The fact is that prisoners were systematically subjected to filth. They were the deliberate target of excremental assault. . . . Prisoners in the Nazi camps were virtually drowning in their own waste, and in fact death by excrement was common.

In Buchenwald, for instance, latrines consisted of open pits twenty-five feet [8 m] long, twelve feet [4 m] deep and twelve feet [4 m] wide. . . . These same pits, which were always overflowing, were emptied at night by prisoners working with nothing but small pails.” One eyewitness recounts: “The location was slippery and unlighted. Of the thirty men on this assignment, an average of ten fell into the pit in the course of each night’s work. The others were not allowed to pull the victims out. When work was done and the pit empty, then and then only were they permitted to remove the corpses.” (As quoted by: Bachrach, 1994, 13)

     Being involved in such a situation is indeed unnervingly difficult that forgiveness may not be among the best options that could be provided by those who were brutally oppressed during those times. Hence, not speaking as to whether the dying man is to be forgiven or not may as well be the best resort in facing the said startling request by a man who has been a part of the massive killings in Germany during the Nazi era.

Overall Reaction and Critique of the Reading

     As per noted through the discussion presented in this review, it is obvious that the writing of Simon Wiesenthal aims to awaken the senses of the people with regards the importance that they are placing on the social recognition of the humanitarian laws. IT is undeniable that the search for power and authority among people today is still evident. Hence, it is not impossible that another Nazi Assault may happen. However, because of the recognition of the humanitarian law, the possibility of this situation is noted as something to be strongly regulated by the present government administrations.

     This particular fact actually notes that the reading material provided by Simon makes it possible for the present society to imagine what has happened before and how this particular situation affects that of the people living in the present society. History certainly allows the people of the present society see the importance of the recognition of humanitarian law in an aim of progressing as a society towards the future.


Simon Wiesenthal. (1998). The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. Schocken; Rev Exp Su edition.

Susan Bachrach. (1994). Tell Them We Remember: The Story of the Holocaust. Little, Brown Young Readers.


Cite this page

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. (2017, Mar 20). Retrieved from

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness
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