The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

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by Simon Wiesenthal
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
Bears reading, not only for its evocation of the Holocaust, but for its power to illuminate our own moral lives.
Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
In 1976, Schocken published the first edition of this book. In it, Wiesenthal (The Murderers Among Us) related an autobiographical incident and invited responses from a number of prominent thinkers. For this revised version, responses were solicited from 31 new people; in addition, 11 of the old responses were retained and three included from the 1981 German edition. Among the new respondents, including intellectuals, writers, theologians, political dissidents and religious leaders from around the world, are the Dalai Lama, Robert Coles, Harold S. Kushner and Albert Speer. The book raises questions of ethics, responsibility, guilt, repentance and forgiveness as Wiesenthal recounts how, as a concentration camp prisoner, he was one day called to the bedside of a dying S.S. soldier. The terribly wounded young man had requested a Jew to hear his final confession, because of his guilt over vicious crimes against Jewish civilians. The S.S. man claimed that he was not anti-Semitic and had only followed the orders and lead of his officers and peers. In a few hours, the solider retold the story of his life, without rationalizations or excuses. Now repentant, he described his crime and asked Wiesenthal for forgiveness. The author has pondered his own response -- silence -- for more than five decades, and he asks his readers what they might have done in his place. In simple yet elegant prose, Wiesenthal recreates the grim reality of a time when Eastern Europe was hell. Never lapsing into the maudlin or self-pitying, his matter-of-fact realism makes the images all the more horrifying. The responses to the author's question are as varied as their authors. The mystery of evil and atonement remain, and the reader is left challenged on these most basic issues of meaning in human life.
VOYA - Susan R. Farber
Librarians will want to check their existing collections before ordering this revised edition of Wiesenthal's classic ethical query. What would you do? The first section of the book describes the situation of a starving prisoner in a concentration camp who is taken to the bedside of a dying Nazi soldier. The soldier tells his story of how he got involved in Nazi Youth and then participated in the massacre of a small town of Jews; but now that he is dying, he asks the forgiveness of this Jew-as a representative of all Jews-to ease his passing. The prisoner cannot decide what to do and walks out without saying a word, and the soldier dies that night, unforgiven. The second part of the book, "Symposium," presents commentary by noted theorists, philosophers, and historians on Wiesenthal's story, and their essays are interesting and provoke careful consideration. However, there is some repetition from the earlier edition of the book. The 1969 edition included thirty-two essays, and the 1997 edition repeats nine of these, verbatim; includes one which was only slightly rewritten; and presents thirty-six new essays by Robert Coles, the Dalai Lama, Harold S. Kushner, and others (curiously few women, by the way). Biographical information on each contributor is provided. While this excellent book will be invaluable to students of ethics or religious studies, it may have a limited readership otherwise and librarians may want to consider their budget and shelf space if an earlier edition is owned. Contributors List. VOYA Codes: 4Q 2P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, For the YA with a special interest in the subject, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12). 1997, (c)1970,
From the Publisher
"In simple yet elegant prose, Wiesenthal recreates the grim reality of a time when Eastern Europe was hell. Never lapsing into the maudlin or self-pitying, his matter-of-fact realism makes the images all the more horrifying." —Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805241457
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/07/1997
Pages:
271
Product dimensions:
5.91(w) x 8.64(h) x 1.18(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"In simple yet elegant prose, Wiesenthal recreates the grim reality of a time when Eastern Europe was hell. Never lapsing into the maudlin or self-pitying, his matter-of-fact realism makes the images all the more horrifying." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Meet the Author

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.

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The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
saberchic More than 1 year ago
If you're looking for a book that makes you question the very core of your soul, this is it. Powerful and moving, this novel recounts the life of a nazi soldier and jewish prisoner during WWII. This book sparked a lot of debate between me and my friends. Was the prisoner right in his actions? Was the soldier out of line? When is it ok to forgive, and who is at liberty to forgive some of the atrocities that occurred? Half the book is the true story between the soldier and prisoner; the other is a symposium from people from all walks of life (professors, religious leaders, etc.) answering the question the author's question: What would you have done in my shoes?
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was one of the best books I have ever read. I found Weisenthal's dilemma challenging. As Christians, I was taught to emmulate Christ and to forgive our enemies 70 times 7. But does that include extending absolution for crimes against those who can no longer speak for themselves? Where does personal responsibility begin in a world gone insane and dominated by groupthink? Can an individual speak on behalf of a people so persecuted? These are just a few of the questions this book made me think about (and I continue to ponder). I find myself thinking one thing, I look at the book again and find new questions and different answers each time. Even as I read different responses from others, I see a new dimension to the question. I highly recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Jew that was not brought up very religious I really learned a lot about how both religions view forgiveness and repentance. I would definitely recommend this book for everybody.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book over 5 years ago and am re-reading it. I am finding it even more engrossing and challenging than the first read. This is a book to be studied and discussed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story of the 'sunflower' is itself worthy of reading this book. However, the dilemnas and questions and reactions Wiesenthal must deal with present a new opportunity for the reader to view the Holocaust and other atrocities in a way that I have never seen presented before. As a post-MEd student with a life long interest in the reasons behind man's inhumanity toward man, this book is a must read. The 53 responses of others who have been situated in horrific life situations are an invaluable contribution to this book.
annieCG More than 1 year ago
The Sunflower is a book of enormous inspiration. Everyone should own this book and read it very often. I've read this one at least 1/2 a dozen times and will continue to go back to it. Also, I've enjoyed this book so much that I've given it to 4 people already and I will gift it again in the future. A truly beautiful and excellent examination of conscience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mr. Wiesentthal does a great job in presenting his battle and allows the reader to feel and understand his pain and suffer. The short writings that follow his actual narrative are also very informative and interesting. The book turn the reader to face himself and question himself. The book serves as a guide of different opinions. I truly don't think that an individual can answer the question of forgivness unless put in similar situations.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Wiesenthal's story is one of the most difficult I have ever read and one that I am so very grateful that I did read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'To forgive or not to forgive' that is the question this author poses to people of different backgrounds and different faiths. The responses are beautiful, profound, and heart-wrenching. You will not be disappointed in the faith-filled pages of this book. A Triumph!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My daughter recommended this book because in one of her college classes a student did a paper on this book. I highly recommend it if you are interested in WWII.
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heavypaws23 More than 1 year ago
Well written, thought provoking, I applaud Mr. Wiesenthal for sharing this experience with us.  We can all learn from the past and this contains powerful lessons.  I really appreciated the commentaries that were added when the book was republished in the 1990's, especially Mr. Levin's.  Thank you for writing this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Alright.
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Yeah, i tred to tell you on friday i was going camping, but my wifi just zonked
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Amazing
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