This Fall I am teaching a course on the Holocaust and the Christian faith. One of the books my students will be reading is famed Nazi hunter and Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal’s provocative book The Sunflower. In it, Wiesenthal recounts a day during his internment when he was summoned from work duty by a nurse and brought to the bedside of a young SS soldier who had been badly wounded and was near death. This soldier went on to share his story with Wiesenthal–a Jew–crescendoing to his telling Wiesenthal about a situation in which the SS soldier had participated in the brutal burning and shooting of a building full of Jewish men, women, and children. And for this, the dying Nazi asks Wiesenthal’s forgiveness, so that he may die with a clean conscience. Wiesenthal never once says a word to the man, though he does reluctantly hold his hand for part of the story. Upon the SS soldier’s reques for forgiveness, Wiesenthal again says nothing, gets up, and leaves the room. By the next morning the soldier had died.
Wiesenthal seems to have replayed this question in his head over and over. Did he act rightly in saying nothing, in essentially refusing to grant the dying SS man’s request for forgiveness? And so, most poignantly, he turns the question over to us . . .
Placed in Wiesenthal’s situation, what would you do?