The Challenges Posed From Forgiveness

Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower presents a thought provoking situation involving a dying SS soldier, Karl, asking Wiesenthal to grant him one final request: forgiveness for his involvement in the murderers of Jews. This is a rather ironic situation, as a dying member of the SS, which had caused so much pain and suffering to a countless number of people throughout World War II, is asking a member of the Jewish community, which had been a victim of the aforementioned pain and suffering, for a favor so he can die with his mind at ease. Not only does this dilemma raise Wiesenthal’s question of whether or not he should have forgiven the soldier or not, but it also forces and individual to ask themself if anyone can truly be forgiven.
Before it is determined whether or not an individual can be forgiven, it is important to understand the concept of granting forgiveness. Forgiveness is not something that should be taken lightly in any circumstance, as in order for forgiveness to be sought out, some form of physical, mental, or emotional harm had to have taken place against the victim. In addition, forgiveness can not be assumed in any situation, but rather must be earned and directly granted to the offender by the victim. If the offender simply asks for forgiveness without undergoing several steps towards earning forgiveness, then nothing can truly be done to relieve the individual of their offenses towards the victim.
In the symposium of The Sunflower, Sven Alkalaj goes into great detail about his about thoughts about admittance of guilt leading to forgiveness. He states an argument can be made to forgive if there is a genuine recognition of guilt (Wiesenthal, 105). An individual recognizing they did something that was truly wrong and hurtful to another is a key first step towards earning forgiveness. Admitting guilt will show the victim that the offender has a clear understanding of what they had done to harm the victim, and can lead to a plan of reconciliation between the offender and the victim.
If guilt is recognized by the offender then they can move on to the next step towards earning forgiveness, which is taking responsibility for one’s actions. Taking responsibility for one’s actions and admitting guilt to one’s actions are two similar concepts, but there is one major detail that separates the two of them: acceptance of one’s actions. Guilt can be admitted without necessarily accepting what was done, as the person at fault may make excuses or blame other contributing factors for their behavior. However, if responsibility is taken, the offender is now accepting what they had done to hurt the victim and any penalty they may receive for their actions.
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