A fact which we all have to emit is that humanity existence always creates conflicts and fighting which we call “WAR”. In war, people kill each others for many reasons —- resources, personal benefits, territories, powers, revenge, etc. In war, one becomes a hero for killing human lives and eventually he gets honored and well-known in people’s heart. The Holocaust, according to Germans, was the war between Germans and Jews. Approximately six million Jews included 960,000 innocent children died during Hitler’s regime called Nazism. Unlike the “hero(s)” whom people honor, the Holocaust was a hideous crime and the participants were bloody murderers. Today people are taught about the Holocaust and learn how to avoid it. Many books written about the Holocaust have published and people read and respond.
Written by Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor, The Sunflower has challenged many readers throughout the world about human responsibility, compassion, and justice with the question about forgiveness, “You are a prisoner in a concentration camp. A dying Nazi soldier asks for your forgiveness. What would you do?” I have thought about the question and seek for the answer for a long time. Finally I find myself in the position that compassion is more important than justice under such a circumstance. I would forgive the dying SS soldier because I feel like nothing is more important than his repentance. There are two other major factors that help me to decide to forgive the dying SS soldier which are peer pressure and his naiveness.
I am just a normal person who does not believe in any superhuman being. However I have learned about different religions and they share the same common lesson about compassion—mercy is sometimes more important than justice. They forgive sinners who genuinely repent. I would forgive Karl because he finally showed repentance before he died. “In our religion repentance is the most important element in seeking forgiveness…And he certainly repented…” said priest Bolek to Simon Wiesenthal (The Sunflower 83). Karl was a good person; he was not born a murderer. According to his mom, he was always a good man who never done anything wrong. And that was basically what Karl said before his death—“I was not born a murderer…” (The Sunflower 31).
Facing the death, a person would never tell a lie because there is nothing to lie about and there is no need to lie. Karl recognized his crime while he was in hospital and he knew that he was guilty. “…His dilemma comes not only because the dying SS man asks for forgiveness, but also because he genuinely seems to recognize his crime and guilt. This recognition, if nothing else, is an important first step.” says Sven Alkalaj (The Sunflower 103). Everyone makes mistake but not all recognizes his/her guilt. For me, Karl is deserved to be forgiven because he makes mistake and he repents (for some people Karl’s mistake was unforgivable).
Simon Wiesenthal did not full believe that the dying soldier was confessing. “…Was he better than others—or did the voices of SS men change when they were dying?” he wondered. As I mentioned earlier, a dying person can only tell the true and Karl was truely confessing as he said “Look, those Jews died quickly, they did not suffer as I do—though they were not as guilty as I am.” Karl believed that God was punishing him because he was so much guilty.
That was why “GOD” did not let him die (as quick as the Jews) but made him suffered. Simon Wiesenthal left the room without saying a single word because part of his heart was not certain how to answer the dying SS man. I sense that Mr. Wiesenthal’s silence meant to forgive Karl. Cardinal Franz Konig, a responder in The Sunflower, also states, “Even though you went away without formally uttering a word of forgiveness, the dying man somehow felt accepted from you; otherwise he would not have bequeathed you his personal belongings.” Mr. Wiesenthal’s compassion wanted to forgive the dying man but he thought he didn’t have the right to grant forgiveness in the name of other dead Jews. In other words if Karl wanted to be forgiven, he then must ask the Jews, who were killed, for absolution.
“But who was to forgive him? I? Nobody had empowered me to do so…I have no power to forgive him in the name of other people…” said Mr. Wiesenthal (The Sunflower 82). However, Karl seemed like treating Mr. Wiesenthal as a representative of Jews. He wished forgiveness from a member of Jews community and that’s enough for him to leave the world in peace. Those Jews who were killed would not be able to answer Karl. So it must depend on people who are still alive to grant forgiveness for Karl. Death is the end; a murderer is human. Let me forgive the dying repented soldier so he could
rest in peace.
Karl voluntarily joined the Hitler Youth because he was naive and lack of life experience so that he was convinced by false information provided by the Nazis easily. Karl joined the Hitler Youth when he was twenty one years old. Before that he did not care much about the world around him. As he mentioned, “Otherwise all I knew about the Jews was what came out of the loudspeaker or what was given us to read. We were told they were the cause of all our misfortunes…They were trying to get on top of us, they were the cause of war, poverty, hunger, unemployment…” (The Sunflower 40).
Radio news, propagandas, newspapers provided false information about the Jews so that the Germans will treat the Jews badly because they all believed that Jewish success was the reason why Germany went down. It was Karl’s fault to join the Hitler Youth and became a murderer. People also blame him because he did what he knew was wrong. Yet he was just a young soldier without knowledge about the Jews; and a soldier must follow the orders. Let people blame the leaders instead of the soldiers who did not even have the right to refuse orders. Eventually Karl confessed with the images of the mother and the father jumped out with their child from a building which was set on fire. Again confession should deserve absolution.
Peer pressure is another important element that brought Karl into Nazi regime. Karl was young high spirit and wanted to be part of the country, so he simply joined the army with his friends and other youths. Actually Karl was force do to something that he didn’t want to do. The Platoon leader and his comrades had the tendency to know what they should do, and Karl should do what they were doing.
You and your sensitive feelings! Men, you cannot go on like this. One must be hard! They are not our people. The Jew is not a human being! The Jews are the cause of all our misfortunes! And when you shoot one of them it is not the same thing as shooting one of us—it’s doesn’t matter whether it is a man, woman, or child, they are different from us. Without question one must get rid of them. If we had been soft we should still be other people’s slaves,…(The Sunflower 49)
There was no way for Karl and his comrades go against the orders. Some might force themselves to believe what the leader said because these soldiers are patriot to their country. They just did what the leader said without knowing that they were used as tools for killing.
Naiveness and peer pressure can be forgiven because. Let think in other way that Karl was also a “victim” of Adoft Hitler when he became a murderer because it was not what he wanted to do in the Nazi. In other words, Karl and other soldiers were trapped to become soldiers. Most of them were brainwashed. Many people blame Karl for keeping being a murderer, didn’t stop the crime. It was too late for him to quit by the time he knew what he was forced to do.
He already joined the army and even his life or his parent’s lives might be threatened if he did not obey the orders. Karl did not think cleverly because of his naiveness and he chose a wrong way to go with other Germans youths even though he didn’t want to go. Those leaders were actually true murderers. People should blame these leaders but not soldiers. Dith Pran was a survivor in the Cambodian Holocaust. He related the Cambodian Holocaust as same as the Germany Holocaust.
…I could never forgive and forget what the top leaderships of the Khmer Rouge had done to me, my family, or friends…I blame the dozen leaders, the brains behind a sadistic plot, who orders the death of millions of people, including the disabled, children, religious people, the educated, and anyone who they thought was a threat to their ideas…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. Placed in Simon Wiesenthal’s position, I would have forgiven the soldier.
Dith Pran explained that the soldiers were taught to kill. Most of them were uneducated or poor. They were brainwashed. Their lives, even their families lives, would be in danger if they didn’t follow the orders. They were forced to kill (The Sunflower 230).
The sunflowers grew on graves of those SS murderers were symbol of forgiveness. Each sunflower heads up toward the sun represented the SS soldier seeking for a brighter future (maybe the future in Karl’s). Forgiveness is the willingness to overcome the past and accept confession to show mercy. “I think the key to forgiveness is understanding.” said Dith Pran (The Sunflower 232). Forgiveness comes from people’s heart, from the compassion.
It doesn’t mean to forget because if people forget the atrocities, it might happen again in the future. The Dalai Lama also stated that people should forgive the person who committed the crime but don’t forget about it. The dying SS soldier in The Sunflower was deserved to forgive because he genuinely repented. It is not quite right to blame him for his action because he was young, naive, and he was under peer pressure. He finally paid for his action. Newton’s third law states that for every exerted force, there is always an equal reaction force. Let me relate this law to the fact that Karl killed Jews (exerted force) and he eventually died in his young age (reaction). People should open their heart to accept Karl’s repentance and give him a chance to make up in his other world. Let the compassion remains forever.