The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness, by Simon Wiesenthal, with a symposium edited by Harry James Cargas and Bonny V. Fetterman. Revised and expanded edition (Schocken, 271 pp.; $24, hardcover, $TK, paper). Reviewed by L. Gregory Jones, dean of the Divinity School at Duke University and author of Embodying Forgiveness (Eerdmans).
The story is gripping, moving, yet harrowing: a dying Nazi confesses his complicity in mass murder to a Jew imprisoned in a concentration camp, and even asks the Jew for forgiveness. How should the Jew respond? How could he be expected to respond?
This might make for an ingenious piece of fiction; alas, it is a true story that happened to none other than Simon Wiesenthal, the remarkable man most noted for his work tracking down Nazi war criminals. He is also noted for The Sunflower, his account of an encounter in 1944 with Karl, a Nazi, and Karl's deathbed confession.
The Sunflower begins with Wiesenthal, an educated Jew, as an inmate in a concentration camp in Poland. He is part of a work detail that is sent from the camp to do cleanup work in a makeshift hospital for wounded German soldiers, a building that had once been the school that Wiesenthal attended. Along the way, Wiesenthal notices a cemetery for deceased Germans; he notices that each grave has a sunflower on it. For Wiesenthal, the sunflower signifies many contrasts between the fate of the Nazi dead on the one hand, and his anticipated fate and those of Jews like him on the other: individual graves, decorated with sunflowers, versus mass graves, unmarked and unmarkable. Continual connections to the living world versus a loss of all such connection.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Wiesenthal is ordered by a nurse—indeed, ...1
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