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The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness [Paperback]

Simon Wiesenthal
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 7 1998
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.

Frequently Bought Together

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness + Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis + Exploring Forgiveness
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Product Description

From Amazon

Author Simon Weisenthal recalls his demoralizing life in a concentration camp and his envy of the dead Germans who have sunflowers marking their graves. At the time he assumed his grave would be a mass one, unmarked and forgotten. Then, one day, a dying Nazi soldier asks Weisenthal for forgiveness for his crimes against the Jews. What would you do? This important book and the provocative question it poses is birthing debates, symposiums, and college courses. The Dalai Lama, Harry Wu, Primo Levi, and others who have witnessed genocide and human tyranny answer Wiesenthal's ultimate question on forgiveness. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this 1976 volume, divided into two sections, Wiesenthal tackles the question of the possibilities and limits of forgiveness. The first part relates the story of how Wiesenthal, as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, was brought before a dying SS trooper, who explained his actions and asked for forgiveness, which Wiesenthal could not bring himself to bestow. In the second section, Wiesenthal presents the story to an array of leading intellectuals and asks, "What would you have done?" This edition contains all the original responses plus additional ones from Primo Levi, Cynthia Ozick, Albert Speer, and others. Heavy stuff.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Increased weight Dec 23 2001
I relish this volume for the story that Simon Wiesenthal shares of his Holocaust experiences.
Much of his 98-page account covers his unwilling audience with a dying SS man named Karl who had asked the nun on duty to fetch a Jewish prisoner, any Jewish prisoner. He did not tell her why. Once Wiesenthal entered, Karl began a long tale of how he had come to this place, what he had done and why he wanted forgiveness. What Karl said and how Wiesenthal reacted are riveting. Years later, the latter traveled to Stuttgart to meet Karl's mother, yet did not tell her what he had learned about her son. I could have done no better in his place.
I found the details surrounding his encounter equally riveting. One day, Wiesenthal was ordered to join a concentration camp work detail that hiked into the town of Lemberg, where he had attended Technical High School in Sapiehy Street. By coincidence, the guards brought the enslaved men through the streets he had once walked as a free young man, to the very building where he had attended school. As he walked, he thought of events, both recent ones in the camp and more distant events in Lemberg and at his school. He recounts them all.
Readers also learn of Wiesenthal's friends Arthur and Josek, neither of whom survived, who comforted and consoled one another and him, talking philosophically under the most inhuman circumstances in order to maintain their humanity.
The reactions of various famed writers, religious leaders and others are less important. Some are nevertheless compelling by virtue of their authorship or unique content. These include replies by Holocaust survivors Jean Amery, Moshe Bejske, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Primo Levi and Nechana Tec, two of whom later committed suicide, and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a beautiful, disturbing, thought provoking book April 5 2002
simon wiesenthal is a brilliant, haunted writer who conveys chillingly the perceived moral dilemma he faced as a dying SS officer begged him for forgiveness for his crimes againt the jewish people during the second world war. while it seems obvious to this reader that the proper response would have been a prompt "rot in hell", it does give more than enough food for thought to anyone who realizes the enormity of the holocaust's unpleasant moral implications for all philosophers and sociologists who endeavor to know the actual nature of man as opposed to wishful thinking a la rousseau or kant. wiesenthal's accomplishments and inspiring life's work (much like frankl's) since his horrendous experience as one of the many victims of this unbelievable historical atrocity gives hope to all students of the human condition even in the shadow of auschwitz and unspeakable evil. a treasure of a book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving & Thought-provoking July 23 2001
Wiesenthal's book on the extent of forgiveness is one of the treasures in Holocaust literature. Writing on the Holocaust has often been very generic -- autobiographical, psychological or thematic -- but Wiesenthal's book brings together these different methods of writing and leaves us with a masterpiece that stirs us emotionally and intellectually. Oftentimes, Holocaust writing appeals to our emotions, rather than our rationality. In fact when writers have tried to look into the psyche of the perpetrators and tried to explain rationally just what drives one to commit such crimes against humanity, they have been accused of siding with the perpetrators in trying to understand them. Others argue that the victims and survivors of the Holocaust should be the focus of anything written on the Holocaust, and that focusing on perpetrators is a negation and diminishing of the victims' suffering. I do not agree with this, and I think a fuller understanding (if it is possible to comprehend such inhuman activity) of the events that happened cannot be achieved without looking at both groups of people involved. Wiesenthal's book has this balance, exploring both the psyche of the perpetrator, an SS man, as well as the thoughts running through the head of the victim, a concentration camp inmate. Can we forgive such crimes which have been perpetrated on our people? And is an individual even in a position to forgive on behalf of everyone? If we do not, are we as bad as the perpetrators themselves? "The Sunflower" asks us questions which we have to confront in our lives. It doesn't just describe a situation and give an answer to it. Instead it leaves us to make our own value judgements about the questions we face, and in doing so, it brings out the prevalent dilemmas in the human condition. A classic and must read for anyone trying to figure out humanity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I recently picked up this book because I recognized the name of famed nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. The Jews suffered terribly under Pharaoh during the days of Moses and under Hitler during World War II. The tale of a nazi soldier asking a Jew - enslaved in a concentration camp - to forgive him for his sins is incredible. To ask forgiveness of one person as a representative of his people is quite a believable notion. Haven't US Presidents apologized for slavery, internment camps, etc in the name of the citizens of the United States??
I liked the fact that Simon's conscience bothered him after he left the soldier's bedside once he heard his terrible tale. I enjoyed his philosophical talks with his fellow prisoners as well as the trip he took to the soldier's mothers house after the war. This was a well-written book and it should be required reading in all high schools.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A book everyone should read
A book everyone should read
Published 1 month ago by David Levy
5.0 out of 5 stars The most wonderful book I've ever read!
The author has taken me personally to a new level in my life! While reading it, and then for weeks after, I could not tell enough people about it. Read more
Published on July 1 2004 by Jane E. Russell
5.0 out of 5 stars A Strange Request For Forgiveness
This is a very strange book in many, many ways. A dying S.S. officer asks for 'a Jew' (any Jew concentration camp inmate will do) so that he can ask for forgiveness for killing... Read more
Published on Sept. 2 2003 by Drew W. Miller
3.0 out of 5 stars What is the problem?
What is Wiesenthal's problem? Is he afraid that God will be mad at him if he made a mistake in deciding whether to forgive or not forgive this guy; that maybe God won't forgive... Read more
Published on June 23 2002 by "ndh5440"
4.0 out of 5 stars This book is really makes you think about what you would do
This is a book I was assigned to read for my freshman Foundations of Inquiry class in college. By the end, I was so greatful that I had the opportunity to read this book. Read more
Published on Nov. 30 2001 by "tjmeint"
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
The Sunflower tells the story of a dying Nazi soldier who seeks out Simon Wiesenthal for forgiveness for his crimes against the Jews so he can die in peace. Read more
Published on July 27 2001 by Robert Von Gerds
5.0 out of 5 stars Using THE SUNFLOWER in an AP History Class (HS)
This book would make an exceptional follow-on study for a unit on the Holocaust. Serious consideration might also be given to using Primo Levi's SURVIVAL IN AUSCHWITZ as an... Read more
Published on June 8 2001 by J. Michael Vice
4.0 out of 5 stars The Courage of Forgiveness!
I have always stood by my belief that it takes more courage to forgive than anything else. This book did not challange that belief in the slightest. Read more
Published on March 14 2001 by gellio
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational but real
I was given this book to read for my Fundamental Ethics course last semester. At first I thought, "What a chore," but then as I immersed myself in the reading of this... Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2001 by "fbruno777"
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