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What would I have done? “Forgiveness is an act of volition, and only the sufferer is qualified to make that decision”. Forgiveness requires two people, he who has done wrong and is seeking to do anything to amend their wrongs and he who is offended and willing to correct the wrong done to them. To accept an apology is to understand their wrongs and commit to an act of healing. When you forgive a person, you are not forgetting their actions it does not mean you are making excuses for their sins and it does not mean you seek revenge after. I believe that forgiveness can be created with time. I will argue that Karl should be forgiven because forgiveness is the imitation of God. Punishment too is an imitation of God. God punishes and forgives, in that order. But God never hates. Teshuvah is a religious practice meaning regret of misdeed, decision to change, and verbal expression of one’s sins. Ephesians verse 4:31 says, get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (The New Revised Standard Version).

Simon Wiesenthal, a Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camp described his story of how the 22-year-old SS soldier Karl, who is lying on his death bed stared a confession and asks for forgiveness. Wrapped up in a white bandage with only his mouth nose and ears revealing he says, “I am resigned to dying soon, but before that, I want to talk about an experience which is torturing me. Otherwise I cannot die in peace “. He starts by speaking about his family who were not supportive of him joining the Hitler Youth and how he wants his mother to hold on to that good image she had of him. During the confession, Simon is dreading the time he is there but something inside of him will not allow him to get up and leave so he stays and listens allowing Karl to continue. Karl confesses to many horrendous crimes but Simon holds Karl’s hand as he confesses, which is a clear recognition of Karl’s humanity and an attempt to give him comfort despite not being able to forgive him. Simon also waves away a fly that is bothering Karl and realizes with some surprise that he was trying to “lighten a lot of an equally defenseless superhuman, without thinking, simply as a matter of course.” Perhaps Simon’s kindest gesture lies in listening to this man’s confession at all since the act of listening threatens both Simon’s physical and emotional health, but Simon remained silent but there was a moment when Simon realized that his feelings towards the dying man had tended toward sympathy. He believed that Karl was not born a murderer nor did he want to be one. It was the Nazis who turned him to be the man he was, and who ordered him to kill thousands of defenseless people.

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What would I have done? It’s the question that everyone who read The Sunflower sat and contemplated about. Part two, “The Symposium” is responses from over 53 distinguished men and women answering the question. I would forgive but Mary Gordon believes otherwise. She states “If the dying Nazi soldier wished to atone, he should have insisted that he be placed in the camps so that he could die in the miserable circumstances of those in whose name he is asking forgiveness”. In my opinion, two wrongs never make a right, so responding that he should replicate the damage towards himself seems invalid and just as cruel as the act committed. Karl mentions in the beginning of his story that they were given literature about the Jews and Bolsheviks “but that was not the sort of thing I cared for”, he did not care for the whole discrimination against the Jews, he was thrilled about going to war with Russia as I had mentioned before. He also mentioned how the Jews would clean up their Quarters and he would deliberately leave food behind for them to find. These young boys were manipulated and lied to being told that the killing of the Jews was revenge to get back at the Russians. Karl admits to the atrocious crimes committed but behind every action is a trigger. Although his actions will never be forgotten and will never be acceptable I do agree if he had gone to a priest his attempt to seek forgiveness would have been a bit more appropriate, but to go kill himself and repeat the atrocities would just be redundant.

What would I have done? A responder who supported my opinion was Dith Pran, a survivor of the genocide in Cambodia that occurred under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Pran places the blame on the leaders of the Khmer Rouge and not on the men who committed the murders. He says,” Pulling away from the Khmer Rouge leadership, I can forgive the soldiers of the Khmer Rouge, those soldiers who did the killing, although I can never forget what they did” (Pran 231). The reason he can forgive the soldier is because he feels that the soldiers of the Khmer Rouge were dragged out of the forest, brainwashed, taught, and forced to kill. If they did not follow orders, their families would have been killed along with them. Pran says that they were very poor uneducated, and extremely afraid of dying. Pran’s opinion does not take all responsibility off of the soldiers and onto the leaders, instead, he says that he can forgive the lowly soldier because he can understand his situation. But even though Pran says he would have forgiven Karl he does not place any moral judgment on Simon; he simply notices the inner confusion created by this situation. His opinion supports mine because Karl speaks of joining because it was the right thing to do in the modern time, he was influenced by wanting to see the world like his uncle, who would come and tell him exciting stories of being in Russia fighting in the war. These young boys joined thinking they were going to war with Russia. I felt sorry for Karl, to me he was a victim of Hitler’s evil ideology that turned him into a murderer and shattered his faith in God. From Karl’s confession to Simon, “When I was a little boy I believed with my mind and soul in God and the commandments of the Church. Then everything was easier. If I still had that faith I am sure death would not be so hard” For many people of diverse religions, their faith in their God defines them. Most of us are told to trust in our God. We should take after God and show the same mercy that God shows us.

What would I have done? Again, I would forgive because a story is not complete without all sides of the story. Karl and many other children were manipulated and brainwashed. At the end of the day, not all of them will ask for repentance, but Karl was one of those who said “Forgiveness must always be granted to the sincerely repentant…and should always be granted”. I believe that the dying Nazi soldier recognized his sins and felt sincere remorse, withholding forgiveness is cruel and a sin. I believe as we grow forgiveness should be something we can all learn to do. The question itself will always be relevant though it can feel very comforting or powerfully releasing to be forgiven, make no mistake. We do not forgive for the other person; we forgive for ourselves. Simon is a perfect example of why we should forgive because now he contemplates his decision years later.

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