THE SUNFLOWER by Simon Wiesenthal


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Simon Wiesenthal is the concentration-camp survivor who has made it his tireless responsibility to reawaken the conscience of the world, again and again, to the horrors of the Nazi atrocities against the Jews by bringing escaped war criminals to justice. Here Wisenthal presents a brilliant, painful fragment of autobiography. He re-evokes the physical and psychological reality of concentration-camp life more plainly and, somehow, believably than many such accounts; but the center of his story is an astonishing dilemma of morality and forgiveness that has obviously haunted him over all the intervening years. While working on a camp detail cleaning a German military hospital, Wiesenthal was summoned by a nurse to the bedside of a dying young SS officer. This man wanted only to confess to a Jew, to ask forgiveness for a brutal murder of Jews which he had reluctantly helped commit and which was consuming his conscience. Wiesenthal, tormented by conflicting feelings of horror and pity, himself a condemned man, listened in silence and then left the room. The question he poses at the end of this miniature tragedy: should he have granted the dying man the ease of forgiveness? Did he have the right as a Jew? Did he have the obligation as a man? The story is followed by a symposium in which 28 theologians, scholars, writers, and statesmen of various nationalities offer their own feelings about what Wiesenthal should have done, and/or what they might have done in his place. As searching and various as their answers are, they provide a background of helplessly hypothetical ethics against which Wiesenthal's story shines all the brighter: a work of art by a man of rare and sensitive conscience, posing the unanswerable question of what it is to be human.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1976
Publisher: Schocken