Simon Wiesenthal (Editor)

The first book to be discussed in JRGO is The Sunflower, by Simon Wiesenthal.

Some questions for you to discuss can be found on The Sunflower Introduction page.

Dr. Eugene J. Fisher was our first moderator. Dr. Fisher is associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. He holds a doctorate in Hebrew Studies from New York University and has authored or edited over a dozen books in the field of Jewish-Christian studies, including Spiritual Pilgrimage: Pope John Paul II on the Jews and Judaism, coedited with Leon Klenicki, which won the National Jewish Book Award in 1995.

Our next moderator will be Dr. Alan L. Berger, another one of the Sunflower Symposium authors. Dr. Berger is the Raddock Eminent Scholar Chair of Holocaust Studies, and directs the Holocaust and Judaic Studies B. A. program at Florida Atlantic University. He was formerly professor in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University where he founded the Jewish Studies Program. He has also served as Visiting Gumenick Professor Of Judaica at the College of William and Mary. Among his books are "Crisis and Covenant," "Judaism in the Modern World," and "Children of Job" [foreword by Elie Wiesel]. Berger edits a series, "Religion, Theology, and the Holocaust" for Syracuse University Press. We look forward to more stimulating and insightful discusions on the Board.

Introducting Myself and the Bulletin Board (Aron Trauring)

First, I want to take this opportunity to welcome you all to this forum. We hope it becomes a useful study resource to all our subscribers. I am the Publisher of the Jewish Heritage Online Magazine. We are based in Israel, with an office in New York. I welcome feedback, comments and suggestions from all our readers. Contact us for any questions or suggestions you might have. Send mail to:

First Comments (Aron Trauring)

I'd like to raise, in the context of this first question, what I understand to be the Rabbinic view of forgivenss. H'ZL (Hahamenu Zichronam Levrcha an acronym for: our sages, may their memory be blessed, usually referring to the Talmudic scholars) argued that all crimes, even the most heinous, are forgiven if the sinner repents. I think the Jewish writers misrepresent the Rabbinic position on this. True, repentance is not sufficient, however, and only death gives full repentance. The fact that Karl's remorse was a result of his facing death, does not lessen the repentance, however. Many of the Jewish writers mention the requirement that those who sin against another, must ask forgiveness directly of him. What the writers all seem to leave out is the second half: that the rabbis say that if the sinner is sincere and asks three times, we must respond positively to the request. I would like to refine this question and ask: is the evil of the Nazis so radical that it obliterates the radical Rabbinic view towards forgiveness? Most of the Jewish writers in the book seem to think so.

Was the Confession Sincere? (Jennifer Gottschalk)

Simon said that the confession was sincere and he was really the only one in any position to judge he was there at the time. The commentators were not. It is interesting to note that the problem would become a lot easier to deal with if Karl was 'angling for cheap grace', but alas this is not the case. Also it should be noted that before he was wounded he regretted his actions, so much so that they led to him being wounded. If he had survived it is probable that he would have tried to make amends or he would have gone insane. (Compare his state of mind with that of the 2 pilots who dropped the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki one committed suicide and the other went insane) We know that 'cheap grace' will not suffice. Karl could easily have used the services of a priest, confessed and received absolution. Instead he goes to the trouble of having a Jew brought in so he can confess to him. Was his confession sincere ?? Yes it was.

Sometimes Truth Takes a Little Peace & Q (Nancy E. Walker)

The man's parents, we are told, had raised him to be a "good Christian" and were disappointed at his choice to join the SS. What a joy and relief his final confession would have been to his mother; it would have been to her a proof not only that her son had performed some act of repentence, but that she had not entirely failed her duties as a parent. However, after her meeting with Simon, she is left with the continued pain of believing her son was one of the persecutors of Simon's people. Perhaps too, she may have the strength of intuition and age to realize Simon is patronizing her, perpetuating to her the myth of the inscrutable Jew. However clearly it appears to me that the right thing was to tell the mother the truth, I can also understand how a man coming from Simon's experience would simply lack the emotional equipment to do this, at this time. Simply finding the mother and meeting with her are acts of great strength, compassion and courage, for Simon.

Simon Intentions (Lee Stahl)

I think you miss the point of Simon's silence in regard to Karl's mother. Simon's refusal to recount Karl's confession allows this lonely, broken, old woman to retain her picture of her son as a "good boy". In retelling his tale, she would be convinced of her son's evil deeds, and know for certain the distance his soul had traveled from the decent Christian upbringing she had given him. What parental joy could she have had to know what evils her little boy had committed in the course of a war she herself did not support. I think it took courage and emotional strength in the extreme to allow this woman, through his silence, to maintain her view of her son as a thriving, loving, religious boy. It was the greatest gift he could have given her.

Forgiveness (Nancy E. Walker)

The SS man appeared to be seeking forgiveness in the way in which he'd been taught, and in calling for a Jew to hear him, he may have been pretty desperate indeed. But he did it. He seems to have believed that by confessing to a Jew, his confessison might go in some mystical way to all the Jews he had persecuted. He was old enough to know the basics of confession according to his religion, but young enough to bend those rules to suit his situation. It probably had never occured to him that Jews had a different concept of forgiveness. As to "serious forgiveness" what can that be? We have legal systems that attempt in some ways and forms to effect forgiveness, but in the main it is so often a personal and subjective experience that both the Christian and Jewish concepts of forgiveness tend to dismissal, and by dismissal I mean removing the problem, as Christianity does in unconditionally forgiving, or as Judaism does by relegating it to God.

The Sin in Question (Lee Stahl)

In reading "The Sunflower" and the responsa after, it struck me that nobody touched on what I see as the heart of the sin and/or crime committed by the Nazi regime.

Karl, the SS man, seems truly remorseful about about his actions on a single day during the war on Germany's eastern front, but shows little remorse for the true depth and breadth of his sins. As a boy raised as a Christian, his sinning began when he first turned his back on G-d and his family to join the Nazi Youth Movement. Every step taken from that point on was a further distancing of his soul from G-d. He later formally joined the antisemitic regime as an SS man, and went to war to fight and kill to defend and spread a government built upon malefisence. He followed as others burnt and killed Jews (and most likely non-jewish Russians) as the Nazi war machine pushed east. He participated in a war that went house to house and trench to trench, destroying all works of G-d in their path, from His children to the earth and sky. Karl's participation in, and remorse over one act amoungst so much evil defies belief! But all of this still does not get to the core of the matter.

As a young Jew in America, I have seen the apathy many fell towards their Judaism. I too wrestle with Kashrut amongst those I know who eat cheeseburgers or ham-and-cheese sandwiches. But beyond practice, there seems to be a strong and prevelent shift in our times toward agnosticism that is, in many cases, rooted in the Shoah. In "The Sunflower", Simon writes about a conversation with a man in the camp about a relative who was preparing to go to the seminary prior to the war and now does not believe in G-d! In another passage, he writes that "G-d was on leave"! Here is the main thrust of the crimes the Nazi regime committed against Judaism. G-d was not on leave, but was in the ovens, gas chambers, and in front of the firing squad lines. In the minds and hearts of many survivors, G-d was one of the victims of the Shoah. Who can ask for forgiveness of that crime? and who can grant it?... [Read More]


[Return to the beginning of the Sunflower discussion]



Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend