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Analysis on Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower

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Being raised in a Roman Catholic household, I can tell you when it comes to forgiveness I was taught to do the Christian thing. As hard is it might be, I should find it in my heart to forgive those who have hurt me, whether they ask for forgiveness or not. What I had never pondered is the chance that someone might ask me forgiveness for something wrong they have done to someone else. Do I have the right to put them at ease or offer forgiveness? In the book The Sunflower, Simon Wiesenthal, a man who had watched countless of innocent Jews like himself be murdered because of sheer hate, shares his unique story. One that has made me think about the way I view, and use forgiveness.

One day while working as a prisoner of a Nazi Concentration Camp, Wiesenthal is fetched by a nurse who brings him to a dying Nazi Soldier. The soldier proceeds to tell Wiesenthal the horrific details of his career as a Nazi. Consumed by the guilt of innocent blood he has shed, the Nazi turns to Wiesenthal and asks him for forgiveness on behave of all the Jews he had slaughtered. Wiesenthal is now put on the spot. To this dying man he alone is looked upon as if the sole representative of his Jewish people. Emotionally drained and confused Wiesenthal leaves the soldier, offering him no words.

Wiesenthal feels burdened by his occurrence with the dying Nazi. He often wonders why him, why an SS soldier, and most of all why does it effect him so deeply? He dreams about it and dreads returning to the Hospital, fearing that the dying man will send for him again. The meeting with the soldier haunts Wiesenthal and he constantly reminisces on whether or not he had made the right choice to walk out on the man without saying a word.

Bolek, who is a friend of Wiesenthal’s, is asked what he thinks about Wiesenthal’s situation. According to Bolek’s religion, repentance is the most important element in seeking forgiveness. He feels since the soldier showed he was truly sorry, that Wiesenthal had failed to issue the Nazi, who at this point is dead, comfort at his death bed. But on this subject, I agree more with Wiesenthal’s actions.

At one hand Bolek says the man seemed to be repentant and should have been offered some sort or peace, but even so I feel Wiesenthal is not at liberty to give the soldier forgiveness, he who has been wronged. At the most, he could have only spoke of hope, but how could he have done so? To Wiesenthal there was no such thing as hope. Not that he did not believe in hope, but living as a prisoner of a Nazi Concentration Camp he saw that no such thing existed. He lived during a time where Jewish prisoners believed that God was on leave.

With this in mind, I do not think it was fair for the soldier to ask Wiesenthal or any Jew the nurse pulled off the street for forgiveness. However, I do view this as an understandable urge. The soldier was a man who was facing his end, he needed to get his sins off his chest, this is understandable. He had an active conscience. But to lay them on Wiesenthal, a person who in no way was at liberty to promise him forgiveness, was unfair. If he was so concerned with receiving forgiveness he should have sought it from a priest, after all he was a Catholic and in that faith a Priest is at liberty to offer absolution.

Still this is not how the story goes, and with the Nazi Soldier dead, Wiesenthal is left without an ending to his dilemma, something that he yearns for in hopes that it will set his mind and conscience at ease. War is over and Wiesenthal is now a free man. He is now able to seek his closure, which he can hopefully find by visiting the dead soldiers mother.

Wiesenthal wants to find out if all that the soldier said was true, if he could have been the type of person that he claimed to be. A remorseful, kind youth who got caught up in the wrong crowd, the Nazis.

Wiesenthal finds that the soldier was honest, but during his meeting with the soldier’s mother, Wiesenthal thinks about silence. There is the silence of bystanders watching the persecution of the Jews of the Holocaust, and secondly, his silence he holds from the soldier’s mother, never revealing how he had met her son. Both are completely different types of silence. The bystander’s silence is more like a cowardice or ignorant silence, while his own silence is uncertain, yet in some way respectful. Wiesenthal suggests that sometimes it is necessary to not be silent when it involves right and wrong, and then sometimes it is necessary to be silent when there is really nothing needed to be said.

I agree with Wiesenthal on this. I feel that sometimes the most powerful response can be silence when one is at a loss for something to say. But in respect to the Holocaust, those that did not speak out, who chose not to act, were in fact choosing an action and response. A response of cowardice, ignorance, and fear. Their passiveness was a decision they made and in making this decision they participated in the Holocaust. They stayed silent, and allowed millions of people to die.

While a prisoner of the concentration camps, Wiesenthal sees sunflowers planted on top of Dead SS soldier’s graves. In my opinion the sunflowers are a connection of life to the dead soldiers. Even in death they are adorn with beauty, compared to millions of dead from the concentration camps who were thrown into mass graves. To Wiesenthal, these flowers are a reminder that mere men can be brainwashed to be mass murderers.

And as long as there are people who live with hatred and prejudices, we let the sunflowers thrive.

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