The Power of Forgiveness: a Moral Dilemma in The Sunflower

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2201 |

Pages: 5|

12 min read

Published: Aug 4, 2023

Words: 2201|Pages: 5|12 min read

Published: Aug 4, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Seeking Forgiveness in The Sunflower
  3. Importance of Forgiveness in Healing
  4. Conclusion
  5. Works Cited


The Second World War, the deadliest military dispute in history, took many lives and left behind immeasurable pain for those alive until now. Over time, some physical wounds caused by the war could be healed and left scars, but the mental pains still torment the soul every day. Some pains will be unforgettable such as the mental and physical pains from the cruelty that Nazis inflicted upon the Jews during the Holocaust. Those mental pains and terrors haunted Jewish people for the rest of their lives. In his book, The Sunflower, Simon Wiesenthal, a Jewish prisoner who survived the Nazi concentration camp in Germany during World War II, writes about the experiences he had in the concentration camp and the conversation with a dying SS soldier named Karl, who wanted to confess his sins in order to seek forgiveness from a Jew during his last minute. After hearing Karl’s confession, Wiesenthal can’t feel free to move on with his mind because he doubts whether his decision by leaving the room without giving an answer to Karl was right or not. Therefore, Wiesenthal asked everyone who reads this book to think about what they would have done if they are in this situation. Some people claim that Karl should not be forgiven because he chose to join the SS military by himself. However, in my point of view, I would give Karl forgiveness if I were Wiesenthal because of the power of forgiveness emerges as a central theme in The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal, a Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camp in Germany during World War II.

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Seeking Forgiveness in The Sunflower

The Sunflower is a story of how Jewish people were treated badly and humiliated by the SS men during the concentration camp. The Jews were forced to work for long hours with nothing to eat. Many Jewish people died because of starvation and a disease called typhus. Their deaths were quickly forgotten, and they didn’t even have graves. On the contrary, every SS soldier would have a sunflower on his grave to remember after they died. Every sunflower symbolized for a dead SS man, and it seemed like a connection between the dead soldiers with the living life. One day of working in a military hospital, the former Technical High School, Wiesenthal was asked to follow a nurse to see Karl, a dying SS man. During their conversation, Karl confessed about the terrible experiences that he did to Jewish people to follow the Nazi orders, and why he joined the Nazi military, then Karl implored Wiesenthal, a Jew, for mercy before he died. To answer Karl’s request for a forgiveness, Wiesenthal chose to leave the room and say nothing. However, Wiesenthal was still uncertain about his action toward a dying SS man, so he asked everyone’s opinion as if they face this situation.

In my opinion, Karl deserves forgiveness because he was a good person by nature. In a conversation with Wiesenthal, Karl’s mom confessed, “‘He [Karl] was always ready to help without being asked. At school he [Karl] was a really model pupil’” (90). This proves that Karl was a very good boy. Obviously, one who knows to how to take care others and is always willing to help people without conditions is of course a kind-heart person. Besides, Karl also admitted, “‘I was not born a murderer’”, and “‘I was actually a server in the church and a special favorite of our priest who hope I would one day study theology’” (31). These statements show his personality was a good young man who believed in morality. Before joining the Hitler Youth, Karl was born and raised in a good and strictly religious family where Karl’s father was a Social Democrat and his mother was a devout Catholic (31). Therefore, Karl was taught to be a good person. In his conversation with Wiesenthal, Karl confessed his crimes very honestly, and all of his confession just for seeking a peace in mind before he left the living world. For example, Karl said, “‘I cannot die . . . without coming clean’” (53). This shows that until his last minute, all of Karl’s desire is to return to his honest nature. Why did Karl hope to see any Jews before he died? Or did he want to pretend to beg a mercy? No, of course he didn’t pretend to do that. Karl did everything from the bottom of his heart, and he had to seek for mercy to release the feeling guilty tortured his mind everyday. In the conversation between Wiesenthal and Bolek, another prisoner, Bolek affirmed, “‘I don’t think he [Karl] was lying to you [Wiesenthal]. When one is face to face with death one doesn’t lie. On his deathbed he apparently returned to the faith of his childhood’” (82). Yes, it is true Karl was not lying. He truly felt guilty, and deeply regretted for all his crimes. Karl can choose to contact to his parents in his last minute, or saving that very little precious time to do what he hasn’t been done yet.

Importance of Forgiveness in Healing

However, Karl begged a nurse help him to see a Jews, and confessed all his sins to a Jews before his death. Karl was brave when he confess his crimes in front of Wiesenthal because it was not easy for anyone to admit their faults. That demonstrates Karl knew what he did to the Jews was both cruel and totally wrong, so he hopes he can do at least last good thing in his life before he has gone. In the conversation between Wiesenthal and Dalai Lama, Dalai Lama “believe one should forgive the person or persons who have committed atrocities against oneself and mankind” (129). This demonstrates that people should open their hearts and forgive ones who knew their errors. In general, only the people who never know they are wrong are reprehensible; otherwise, forgiving will free the burden on everyone’s mind. According to the article, “Between Forgiveness and Unforgiveness”, Zenon Szablowinski shares his thoughts, “forgiveness has been treasured for centuries because it has the power to heal emotional wounds, restore human relationships and break the chain of violence”. This is true that forgiving is the best way to release hatred and vengeance. What if hatred is serial by hatred, and then it needs to be solved by revenge? If so, the world will always be at war and no peace. Forgiveness is a way of letting go of grudges and help everyone has a peace in mind. When one know his mistakes, people should give him mercy. Therefore, in this case, I would give Karl, a dying man, a forgiveness.

In addition, I would forgive Karl because he was brainwashed by the Nazi leaders, and must follow the higher orders to kill Jewish people. As the Jews were strangers to Karl, all the information Karl heard about Jewish people was from the Nazis. In fact, all Karl understood “about the Jews was what came out of the loudspeaker” or what the SS leaders gave their soldiers to read (40). Karl states, “‘We were told they [the Jews] were the cause of our misfortunes . . . They were trying to get on top of us, they were the cause of the war, poverty, hunger, unemployment’” (40). This shows that the Nazis brainwashed their soldiers, including Karl, and gave them the wrong information about the Jews. The SS leaders constructed misleading information about the Jews to cause the rational reasons for their crimes. The Nazis wanted to make their soldiers believe that killing the Jews was a righteous works to do, and made them feel not guilty when they killed the innocent people. All the SS soldiers believed that the more Jewish people were killed, the more soldiers were called heroic. Karl also confessed that the Nazi leaders educated their soldiers, “The Jew is not a human being” (49). Therefore, to Nazi soldiers, killing the Jews was a necessary and right thing to do, so they killed a massive of innocent Jewish people without any guilty. Nazi Germany leaders wanted to genocide the Jews in a righteous way. In general, any soldier has to be complied with orders from leaders, they cannot deny because the orders were their duties ; especially, this was Nazi Germany, a cruel dictatorship. Karl didn’t know anything about the Jews, and the SS military brainwashed Karl with the wrong information that the Jews were very bad as well as inhuman, then asked the SS soldiers to kill the innocent Jews. He was blinded about the truths by the Nazi Germany. Karl was a soldier, in his position, he must follow the orders from leaders without any condition. The crimes that they did to the Jewish people were out of Karl’s control, and Karl was not aware of his actions. Although Karl killed a lot of Jewish people, his action could be explained as his tendency to obey authorities. Consequently, I believe Karl did his crimes unintentionally , and I would give this dying man a forgiveness.

The Moral Dilemma in The Sunflower

Besides, some people will argue that Karl volunteered for the Hitler Youth; however, in fact, Karl was not mature enough at his age to fully understand what he was doing. Therefore, I would still give Karl a chance to earn forgiveness. It is true that Karl joined to be a soldier by himself. At that time, all of the youths as his age were influenced by the Nazi’s propaganda. They simply thought that joining the army is an essential thing they should do. Karl was not the only person in his troop to volunteer to the Hitler Youth, but many of his friends also joined the force like him “without a thought, as if they were going to a dance or on an outing” (32). This shows that Karl and his peers took part in the army as a movement without any hesitation. However, Karl was too young in his age at that time to give himself the right decision. According to Karl’s mom, “‘He [Karl] was sixteen at the time and in the Hitler Youth’” (88). Yes, Karl was only sixteen, an age of impulsion, risky behaviors and straight-up rudeness, when he joined in the Hitler Youth, then later on was SS military. In general, at the age of sixteen years old, one is still a teenager, and hasn’t been an adult yet; so, it’s easy to understand that they cannot make the right decision for themselves. They are influenced to their friends and their surroundings. With a young mind, Karl was dragged by his friends and joined the SS military that later he was regretted. Obviously, being under the influence of the surrounding guidance, Karl decided to do the things which he didn’t understand completely, but fully supportive. According to the article, “Propaganda: Fight for the Minds of Children”, written by Dennis Behreandt, “Through 1939, the Hitler Youth counted among its membership as much as 63 percent of all 10- to 18-year-old children in Germany”. This proves that at that time, there was a movement of young people follow after each others to volunteer to Hitler Youth, like Karl. Hitler government set their goal to capture and use the youth to become their soldiers. At this age, the youths normally believe people easily, so they will trust everything from Nazis without any concern or questioning. Similar to this situation, Karl was not fully aware of his actions, and he put all his trust in the SS leaders. As a result, Karl fails in the wrong direction with his immature mind. Everyone makes mistakes, especially youths, so people should give them mercy for their superficial thinking. As if Karl realized his mistakes and was seeking forgiveness before he said goodbye to the living world, why didn’t people give him an excuse for his sins? The mistakes had already happened, no one could turn back time, or change anything. There is nothing Karl could do more than begging for a last absolution in his life; and for that reason, I would pardon Karl the last time if I were Wiesenthal.

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After all, forgiveness is the best way for everyone to get peace after the turmoil, especially since that is the last time and the last chance for both sides. I understand that the word “forgive” is easy to say, but it’s not easy to do. It should not let hatred follow hatred. The solution of forgiving will give both sides an opportunity to correct their mistakes; however, forgiveness cannot be repeated many times. It is true for the saying “forgive”, but not “forget”. People forgive and wait for the other side’s actions, but do not fully forget it. Altruism is what should be in life. Forgiving others is also a way of forgiving ourselves. It will free the burden on one’s mind, and there is nothing more precious than having peace in the soul. 

Works Cited

  1. Wiesenthal, Simon. The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. Schocken, 1997.
  2. Szabłowski, Zenon. 'Between Forgiveness and Unforgiveness.' UNESCO Courier, vol. 52, no. 11, 1999, pp. 41-43.
  3. Behreandt, Dennis. 'Propaganda: Fight for the Minds of Children.' The New American, vol. 24, no. 19, 2008, pp. 25-28.
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Power of Forgiveness: A Moral Dilemma in The Sunflower. (2023, August 04). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from
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