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Morals And Forgiveness In Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower

2091 words - 8 pages

In Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower, he recounts his incidence of meeting a dying Nazi soldier who tells Simon that he was responsible for the death of his family. Upon telling Simon the details, Karl asks for his forgiveness for what he helped accomplish. Simon leaves Karl without giving him an answer. This paper will argue that, even though Karl admits to killing Simon’s family in the house, Simon is morally forbidden to forgive Karl because Karl does not seem to show genuine remorse for his committed crime and it is not up to Simon to be able to forgive Karl for his sins. This stand will be supported by the meaning of forgiveness, evidence from the memoir, quotes from the published responses to Simon’s moral question, and arguments from Thomas Brudholm, Charles Griswold, and Trudy Govier. The possibly raised objection, for this particular modified situation, of forgiveness being necessary to move on from Desmond Tutu will be countered with the logic of needing to eventually find an end somewhere.
Forgiveness is not an action that should be taken for granted. Nor should it be easily accepted without a second thought. It was strong of Simon to refuse to give Karl an answer to his request. “Possibly, there are circumstances in which forgiving is a temptation, a promise of relief that might be morally dubious. Indeed, the refusal to forgive may represent the more demanding moral accomplishment” (Brudholm 2). Simon did not give into the temptation to give a dying man the easy answer he sought and say that he forgave him without thinking it over. Karl assumed that he would be forgiven, even though he did not express much remorse about what he had done. Because he did not automatically tell Karl that he forgave him, Simon never had the chance to decide how he felt and to tell Karl his final answer. This dilemma obviously haunted him for decades after the incident. It caused him to write a book about the experience and for him to ask every single reader of the book what he or she would do if he or she had been in his place. However, if he had forgiven him, Simon would have regretted his words for just as many years because Karl did not deserve any comforting words from Simon to ease his conscience. Just as Primo Levi put it in his response: “…you [Simon] would have been at fault in absolving your man, and you would perhaps today be experiencing a deeper remorse than you feel at not having absolved him” (191-192).
This is a matter of philosophical interpersonal forgiveness. Karl does not ask for God’s forgiveness, he simply asks for Simon’s. He is asking for there to be forgiveness granted between two people. What Simon feels is out of Karl’s control, but he can try his best to have Simon feel sorry for him. Despite who Karl is Simon does subconsciously feel some pity for the man as he waves off an irritating beetle and stays to hear the whole story. He also is able to imagine Karl as more of a real person after visiting Karl’s mother, seeing his...

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