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The Sunflower- Exploring Forgiveness A Book Review

 The Sunflower

On the Possibilities  

and Limits of



  Simon Wiesenthal

Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton

This book, The Sunflower, offers a challenging story by Holocaust survivor,  Simon Wiesenthal and I recommend it to all interested in the subject of forgiveness and its conceptual neighbour, reconciliation. 

In the year 1943, Simon Wiesenthal is in a Nazi concentration camp. He is sent to work in a German  army hospital. He is called to attend to a Nazi soldier who wants forgiveness from a Jew for being part of the murder of  300 Jews by setting fire to a building then shooting those who jumped from windows as they tried to escape.

Following his confessional story, the German asks forgiveness. Wiesenthal leaves the room without a word. The next day, he learns the soldier died and left his belongings to him but Wiesenthal refuses to take them. Wiesenthal ruminates then invites people to respond to his dilemma--should he have forgiven the soldier?

Following is a quote from the author:

    Was my silence at the bedside of the dying Nazi right or wrong? This is a profound moarl question that challenges the conscience of the reader of this episode, just as it once challenged my heart and my mind.

    The crux of the matter is, of course, the question of forgiveness. Forgetting is something that time alone takes care of, but forgiveness is an act of volition, and only the sufferer is qualified to make the decision. 

    You, who have just read this sad and tragic episode in my life, can mentally change places with me and ask yourself the crucial question, "What would I have done?"

            (Wiesenthal, pp. 97-98) 

We learn a lot about different perspectives on forgiveness as we read the responses from a diverse sample of women and men.

Psychologists tend to view forgiveness as an intrapersonal process in which a person who has been offended learns to let go of the offense and move forward. The emotional dimension often takes longer than the cognitive decision to forgive. However, when we are in a relationship, expressed forgiveness is important to promote reconciliation when interpersonal offenses require repairs if the relationship is to continue in a healthy fashion.

Wiesenthal presents a different sort of forgiveness dilemma. He has been the victim of Nazi aggression but not this particular man. His relationship with the man is not one he chose and is hardly an ongoing interpersonal relationship. Wiesenthal's thinking about the relationship suggests he may not have lived up to his own moral standards, which suggests the possibility of self-forgiveness. 

There's more to consider and I do recommend this book to those interested in the study of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

For additional books on Forgiveness and Reconciliation, click this link.

Key concepts: Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Confession, Apology


Wiesenthal, S.  (1998). The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. New York: Random House. Available on AMAZON  and  Google

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