The Sunflower is a book written by Simon Wiensethal who had an experience in a concentration inmate in Germany. It gets its title from an experience Wiensethal had in the concentration camp. One day, when the Jew prisoners were being transported, they passed by a Nazi cemetery. The cemetery had sunflowers surrounding the graves of the SS soldiers. Wiensethal was really struck by this. He felt jealous of the dead SS soldiers because they had a connection to the living world through the sunflowers and butterflies could visit their graves. On the other hand, he compared his situation to theirs (Wiensethal, 1998). He concluded that he would eventually be buried in a mass grave, where bodies would be crammed on top of each other, without any connection to the living world with nothing but eternal darkness.
Analysis and explanation of Wiesenthal’s actions:
Only thirty four of the one hundred and forty nine thousand Jews survived the concentration camp he was a prisoner in 1934 and Wiensethal was one of them. His history is one of many transitions, ranging from what he considered to be disappointments to what he may have viewed as victories. All of his family members died in the concentration camps and he was the only survivor from his family. Wiensethal was married to a Jew lady, who did not possess physical traits that were commonly associated with Jews. The couple took advantage of this and forged legal papers for her. She escaped the concentration camp experience. However, she had to live under a secret false identity. Wiensethal had successfully escaped the concentration camp, only to be recaptured.
On the same day Wiensethal had internalized the sunflower and what it represented; a nurse came to where his work group was and asked him to follow her. She said an SS soldier wanted to speak to a Jew. He was twenty one. He narrated to Wiensethal of an incident he had in Russia. He narrated of how the soldiers rounded Jews into a building, regardless of their age or gender, into a building full of petrol and threw grenades to burn them. He particularly talks about a three member family of man, wife and baby that stood out for him. The family tried escaping through the window and he shot them (Wiensethal, 1998). He wanted Wiensethal to forgive him for all the wrongs he had committed against the Jews. He also told Wiensethal that he knew he would not die in peace if he was not forgiven for the wrongs he had committed against the Jews and begged for forgiveness. Wiensethal left without a word, the next day he heard that the soldier had died. He asked his friends in the camp if he had done the right thing but their responses did not help him decide. The main question in his book remains to be if he did the right thing by not forgiving the soldier. He also has a list of fifty three responses he has had from people of varied cultures and beliefs across the globe concerning the question.
After having his freedom, Wiensethal went to the soldier’s mother who was by then a widow. She had nothing but good things to say about her son. He was hoping that after talking to her, she would help him come to a decision as to whether he did the right thing by leaving the dead soldier without a word or not. The mother believed her son was a heroic soldier who had no capacity to commit atrocities. She even backed up her opinion with the fact that her son had been an altar boy when young. Wiensethal left her without narrating to her his encounter with her son. The information from the soldier’s mother did not help him decide whether he had done the right thing or not. On the other hand, by good luck, he got re-united with his wife. He then went on to become an ex-Nazi soldiers hunter. He was renowned for capturing eleven thousand ex-soldiers (Wiensethal, 1998).
Wiensethal did not forgive the soldier to offer him absolution due to a number of factors that stem from his culture and beliefs. Judaism has a complex forgiving culture. It describes forgiving as a procedure that has four steps. Firstly, the repentant will have to ask the person they have wronged for forgiveness. In Wiensethal case, he was not this party. The second step is asking God for forgiveness. The book does not specify if the soldier had done this or not. The third thing that involves forgiveness is the wrongdoer feeling guilty for the wrong committed. From the book’s description of the soldier, he was feeling guilty (Wiensethal, 1998). The last step involves not repeating the mistake in similar situations to follow. In this context and from how Wiensethal was taught to handle forgiveness, it would not have been proper for him to forgive the soldier at that time. The main reason is the fact that the soldier was not asking the people whom he had wronged for forgiveness. Wiensethal was only a random Jew in the hospital; it was not within his moral power to forgive this soldier.
The cultures of the commentators affected their opinion of whether the soldier should have been forgiven or not. Most Jews felt that Wiensethal did the right thing by walking away while most of the other religions were sympathetic with the soldier and thought that he should have been forgiven. Primo Levi was a survivor of the Holocaust was a commentator. He felt that Wiensethal did the right thing. Apart from the fact that according to Judaism one has to repent to the party he or she has committed the wrong, he felt that the soldier was using Wiensethal as a tool. Maybe he thought the soldier was only using Wiensethal to ease his guilt. Maybe he also felt that the soldier would have committed the same atrocities if he had not been dying and in the field. For this, he points out that the soldier did not deserve any respect (Wiensethal, 1998). He also said that if Wiensethal had told the soldier he had forgiven him, it would have been a lie, which would have been wrong. This way of thinking may be due to the fact that he went through the inhumane hands of the Nazi and his Judaism teachings.
Desmond Tutu, who was also a commentator, had a different opinion. He understood what Wiensethal must have felt, being a Jew prisoner and the other party being a Nazi soldier, who in the book had just confessed to being involved in the mass killing of other Jews, especially the children. He understood that was a hard position to be in. He took note of the other important issue of forgiveness that was on the other hand. He points out that Wiensethal should have forgiven the soldier. According to him forgiveness is a very important component of the society, without which, there is no future. The Christian culture promotes forgiveness, in the Bible, even Jesus forgives a thief in who confessed and repented in the last minutes of his life. The Christians therefore, treat forgiveness with a lot of regard (Wiensethal, 1998).
I think that Wiensethal should have pushed his boundaries and forgive the soldier. At that moment it may have been the right thing to do. Even after following his culture, Wiensethal was so disturbed by the issue that he never got the peace of mind he needed. If he had forgiven the soldier, maybe the case would have been different. The thing about forgiveness is that it is vital for the forgiver and the repentant, it gives both of them peace of mind. Wiensethal never got the peace of mind he searched from the people he consulted on the issue.