To Forgive or Not to ForgiveThe Holocaust was the genocide of six million Jews administered by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. This event took place between 1933 and 1945; it slowly went from discrimination and separating families to hoarding them into gas chambers and burning their bodies. In The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal, Wiesenthal writes about his incident with a dying Nazi soldier named Karl. The soldier starts out by talking how his happy childhood was happy and how his mother raised him. Then, Karl starts to reminisce about a boy and his family. He first encountered this family when he was sent to fight in Russia; the Jews were crammed into a house and the soldiers received the command to throw the grenades in the house. The boy and his family were the last people he locked eyes with in the midst of all the burning bodies blown out from the windows. After telling Wiesenthal this story, Karl asks Wiesenthal to forgive him for the murder of 300 innocent Jews.
Although some people might disagree, Simon should not forgive Karl because he was raised in a family with good ethics and he was willing to slaughter people. There are those who think Karl should be forgiven because he was truly remorseful for his actions. The fact that Karl asked for forgiveness meant forgiveness was on his mind. Some arguments say he shouldn’t be forgiven because he was careless when he asked the nurse to bring him any Jew.
It made him sound like he didn’t respect each Jew as an individual. But, did it really meant he didn’t respect each Jew as an individual? We have to keep in mind that Karl, an SS officer, had no personal connections with any Jewish person. He didn’t have any personal connections with a Jew, much less know their names. He wasn’t close to any of them. He should be forgiven because asking for forgiveness was what he wanted in those last minutes of living, it is something he thought long about. It wasn’t being on his deathbed that made him feel guilty; he was truly remorseful. Karl committed awful crimes but those shouldn’t discredit his positive characteristics. Matthieu Ricard—a buddhist monk and a French-language interpreter for the Dalai Lama believes, “No matter how bad someone is, we believe that the basic goodness remains … Once the dirt is removed, the true nature of the gold will be revealed” (235).
This means that despite every action that deems a person bad, deep inside everyone still has the fundamental goodness inside of them. Karl acknowledged what he did, that was the first step he took of showing righteousness. He did not say what he did was right, but instead asked Simon to forgive him for his awful actions. Once again, there are people who think Karl should be forgiven because he was remorseful; yet, that does not warrant forgiveness. If we continue to forgive murder, those crimes will perpetuate. Karl should not be forgiven for many reasons such as being raised with morals but joined the SS voluntarily.
Karl tells Simon about how he lived a joyful and dreamlike childhood; for, he was raised by his father, a Social Democrat, and his mother. He was brought up as a Catholic, so he was taught virtues and the significance of lives. Most people that make questionable decisions are usually ones who didn’t grow up in a safe environment with positive influences. It is harder to grasp why someone would kill 300 people if they were brought up with all the positive attributes to a healthy character unless it was because they enjoyed killing. Another reason that ties in with being raised righteously is that Karl joined the Hitler Youth and soon volunteered to be an SS soldier. He voluntarily took steps to become an SS soldier starting at a young age. His parents didn’t condone it, and in fact as soon as he volunteered was the last time his father ever spoke to him. Disappointing his parents to go do what went against their beliefs and what he knew was wrong is another sin on his part.
He cannot be forgiven for actions he was completely aware of doing, he knew what he was signing up for, and he willingly executed 300 Jews. Murder is a stain that cannot be removed; and it is a crime that Simon cannot forgive as it was not done to him. Forgiveness can be granted for wrongdoings such as theft, assault, false imprisonment, and more. Not for murder, because it is a stain that cannot be undone.
In most scenarios of the crimes mentioned, the victims come out harmed but not dead. They have a chance at getting help and walking the Earth. But, if they are dead, they were stripped of their choice to live; and that is a decision no one should make for others. Even if Simon had decided to forgive Karl, it would not have been valid.
A wise friend of Simon’s named Josek advised him that he had no right to forgive for people that did not give him permission to forgive. He told Simon that if it was a crime committed to Simon, it is his decision to “forgive and forget”. Josek means that it wasn’t Simon’s place to console a dying man just because he asked.
Karl asked Simon to make a decision that was much bigger than him, a request that would’ve been impossible to make unless Simon was killed by Karl. Even then, he would not be able to give him his answer as he is dead. And that is why what Karl did was a true sin. Last but not least, Karl should definitely not be forgiven because he didn’t have to kill those civilians. Joshua Rubenstein, the regional director of Amnesty International USA, informed readers of critical information, “We know today, if Simon did not at the time, that German soldiers were not punished for refusing to slaughter innocent people. The young Nazi did not have to obey the order to burn and shoot unarmed men, women, and children” (239). This fact came to light and truly showed how heartless Karl was.
Amongst the soldiers that were firing at the unarmed families, Karl did not have to, he could have easily blended in and watched. Just like he voluntarily joined the SS, and knew exactly what he was signing up for, he voluntarily slaughtered people, knowing exactly what he was doing. He is asking for forgiveness for a wrongdoing that he could’ve avoided.
As someone who’s been wronged many times, I forgive but not forget. It is much easier for me to forgive someone but be wary of letting them close, than it is to carry that animosity inside me. Forgiving lifts the hostility in some hearts, whereas, forgiving can add to a person’s negativity. Forgiving someone can add onto self loathe because it makes you think why did I forgive that person if they did not deserve it? It can cause someone to think they are weak amongst other things, and eat at them from the inside. It is important for people to think about forgiveness, and know when forgiving someone is the right decision. In the end, they are the ones who have to live with their decision.