The Oxford English Dictionary defines forgiveness as ?to grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offence or debt?. I find forgiveness to be the act of finding inner peace for the mistakes you have made, but it must never be forgotten and used as a learning tool. In ?The Sunflower?, Simon Wiesenthal confronts us, the reader, with a dilemma that has been plaguing him since the 1940?s. Simon Wiesenthal describes a German SS man who killed and tortured innocent Germans, wishes to escape his impending fate and receive forgiveness for the evil he has been a part of. This Nazi Soldier, Karl, is the dilemma for Simon. The question he puts forward to us in the book is, if we were in his position, would we forgive Karl? My answer is mutual. This is why.
There are several different reasons to forgive Karl, based on the responses. One is the Christian teaching that in order to be forgiven one only has to ask. Dennis Prager claims that the reason Christians with such ease is because "the belief that God loves everyone, no matter how evil, makes it impossible for a believing Christian to hate evil people and therefore difficult to fight them" (229). Buddhism is another religion that teaches to forgive, but Buddhists make an important distinction that you should never forget because forgetting would allow it to happen again. Buddhists teach to always have compassion for your fellow man and never to act violently towards another. Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist, explains: "True compassion must embrace all things and everyone: the worthy and the guilty,
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the friend and the foe. No matter how bad someone is we believe that the basic goodness remains" (Ricard 235). Buddhists believe that with this belief comes compassion, unity, and love, and without it all would be lost. The last reason I found to forgive the SS soldier in the responses was not religious. Dith Pran is a survivor from the genocide in Cambodia that occurred under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Pran places the blame on the leaders of the Khmer Rouge and not on the men who committed the murders. He says, " Pulling away from the Khmer Rouge leadership, I can forgive the soldiers of the Khmer Rouge, those who actually did the killing, although I can never forget what they did" (Pran 231). The reason he can forgive the soldier is because he feels that the soldiers of the Khmer Rouge were dragged out of the forest, brainwashed, taught to kill, and forced to kill. If they did not follow orders, their families would have been killed along with them. Pran says that they were very poor and uneducated, and extremely afraid of dying. Pran?s opinion does not take all responsibility off of the soldiers and on to the leaders, instead he says that he can forgive the lowly soldier because he can understand his situation. But even though Pran says he would have forgiven Karl he does not place any moral judgment on Simon; he simply notices the inner turmoil created by this situation.
I can see the most obvious reasons to not forgive a Nazi soldier for killing innocent people. They are based on revenge and the idea of an "eye for an eye". That is the easiest way to handle something as difficult as this. But when I am presented with a philosophical question I have no desire to answer it in any way that would promote fear and hate. It is the bigger person who can rise above the pettiness of the situation to make an informed, rational decision. I see no reason to practice philosophical beliefs that could influence my actions in a way that would not prove to be the best choice possible. In the response section of The Sunflower the majority of the Jewish respondents state that Simon had no right to forgive Karl. Some of the Jewish respondents are also survivors of the Holocaust. For instance, Andre
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Stein is a professor at the University of Toronto and he argues that, "The consequences of participating in genocidal acts must include dying with a guilty conscience" (Stein 252). Mr. Stein gives a clear answer but we must realize that he is a Holocaust survivor and his answer could be swayed by memories of