October 9, 1997
On the Possibilities and
Limits of Forgiveness
By William Cutter
"The Sunflower" Revised and expanded, edited by Harry James Cargasand Bonny V. Fetterman. Schocken Books, New York, 1997) (Firstpublished in 1976, and translated by H. A. Piehler)
"The Sunflower" introduced Simon Wiesenthal to the world -- in1969 in French, and here in 1976.
The story itself is a laconic autobiographical statement that notonly describes Wiesenthal's experience as camp inmate, but joins thatexperience to an excruciating ethical question about forgiveness. Nowthat Simon Wiesenthal is a legend and an icon, his modest story seemslarger, somehow, and the republication of the book is a kind ofcommandment to read it again.
Wiesenthal is forced -- while a concentration camp inmate -- tolisten to the confession of a dying Nazi soldier who begs forgivenessfor one atrocity and more while in full command of mind and spirit.The Nazi's face hidden by bandages, his voice barely audible, hemeets an unseen and anonymous concentration camp inmate who has beenfreed from the confinement of a work gang in Lemberg, to standtrapped in the presence of one of Evil's soldiers. Wiesenthal becomesa "double prisoner," forced to ponder the dying man's plea againsthis will. It is one of the rare instances in which a concentrationcamp inmate would prefer to