It is sixty-eight years since the end of the Second World War. As the younger generation, we are lucky to learn this dark history from books, mass media, or our grandparents but for those who experienced Second World War in person, besides endless nightmares of chaos, disease, and hunger, some of them needed to face the moral sanctions and condemnations for what they did to others, or what others did to them, even after the war had ended.
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In his book The Sunflower, whether Simon Wiesenthal should have forgiven the SS soldier, Karl, who was confessing on his deathbed, seemed to have become a question, which troubled Simon in his life. In this case, forgiveness from Wiesenthal not only relieves the soldier of his sense of guilt and regret but most importantly, it can also bring Simon Wiesenthal peace of mind.
First, we have to understand the reasons why Simon chose not to forgive. The first reason that comes to mind is “hatred.” What did hatred bring him? It drove him to take revenge towards the Nazis and made him the foremost Nazi hunter, but the price he paid was that he never got peace of mind. It is not difficult to understand why Simon rejected the soldier’s request to be forgiven. Simon was a normal person living a happy life and had a bright future ahead of him, but these were all taken from him when he was suddenly sent to the camps under horrible living and working conditions.
I believe that if anyone had gone through all the pain and horror that Simon had, and was asked to forgive Karl, the instinct, and most humane reaction at that moment would be to strongly decline the request without second thoughts, just as Simon did. Consider what the Nazis did to the Jews, detaining them in concentration camps, torturing, persecuting, and murdering approximately six million Jews.
He could not relieve himself of the terrible things he had experienced and questioned himself whether his silence at the bedside of the dying Nazi was justified. He was confused by his hatred and guilt for not forgiving Karl. If his mind was filled with negative thoughts and feelings, how could he have been happy? Consider Prince Hamlet, who dedicated his entire life to revenge, but did he get peace in his whole life? Was he satisfied with himself in the end? The answer is no.
If Simon had forgiven the soldier, perhaps he could have released the hatred in his heart, slowly, if not at once. He would have woken up from the nightmare that had haunted him for so long, and he could have lived happily in tranquility after all this chaos. Just as Mark Twain says, “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it.” What had been done was done, and could not be undone, then why not live our best at present? When the dying man who had killed hundreds finally confessed and eagerly waited to be forgiven, what could be crueler than denying his final wish, and sending him to his grave with remorse? Why not let it go, at least so that the old man could have died in peace.
Simon might have thought the soldier was too evil to be forgiven and believed that most people would agree with his argument since everyone pitied the victims of the Holocaust but forgiveness means forgetting the past. Fundamentally, the Nazis’ extensive brainwashing and the evil social and political environment at that time had caused the tragedy. To be specific, Nazi was an official ideology, which had wiped people of their basic moral values, intelligence, and kindness. Without intellectualism, most of the Germans did not distinguish between good and evil and lived without empathy or kindness. Simon and everyone else who had experienced the terror could forgive the Nazis but go on remembering them as people who created permanent scars in their lives.
He could forgive the Nazis to prove to be moral and calm his own heart, although he did not. Karl truly regrets what he had done. However, if we had been in Germany during World War II, not as Jews, we would probably have forgotten our moral values and hurt some innocent Jews without self-consciousness due to political pressure. Moreover, SS soldiers were like Karl, they were not born to kill they should not have been fully responsible for their murder; it was not all their fault hence Karl was not that evil and was worth having been forgiven.
As a Buddhist follower, I learned the saying that we should always have compassion for others and even act nicely towards the person who hurts us. The same saying is also in the Holy Bible and Karma has made me believe that forgiving Karl would have been a better choice. Forgiveness can be good for both sides but forgetting is never because it is a form of denial and only recognition of guilt by both sides can begin to prevent a repetition of heinous deeds and so forgiving a person or a group means you can forget the atrocities. There is nothing we can do about the past, but we still have the chance to make ourselves and others feel better at present, as well as in the future.