Justice and Forgiveness
"So he asked of me something that was impossible to grant"
Simon Wiesenthal, a Jewish concentration camp prisoner in response to being asked to forgive a Nazi soldier.
Simon Wiesenthal's classic story "The Sunflower" tells of Simon's horrific experiences as a prisoner in Germany's concentration camps during World War II. During his brutal stay, he is forced into the hospital room of a dying Nazi soldier who insists on confessing his crimes towards Jewish people in detail and asks for forgiveness from Simon. The soldier had not actually harmed Simon, but along with the continued dehumanization of Jewish people in Germany at the time, recalled a particularly gruesome crime that he actively participated in where entire families were burned and shot.
After enduring inhumane, and graphically devastating abuse on a daily basis, Simon was forced to hear the details of the crimes and then heard the pleas to please forgive him. Simon chose to simply never respond to the man. He spoke no words, but simply got up and left.
The question of forgiveness and justice is complex. Does granting forgiveness absolve the other of responsibility for restitution or restoration? Is repentance required for forgiveness? Can a person offer forgiveness to someone for some thing that was not directly committed against them? Is repentance authentic if I continue to participate or benefit from the injustices against the persons or people I have offended or harmed?
Instead of giving my thoughts of the role of forgiveness and the role of justice, I simply want your opinion. Should Simon have forgiven the soldier? Could Simon have forgiven the solider? What influences your decision? Leave your responses as comments.
God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor
God bless you