Summary: A 3 week journey to learn to forgive
First Baptist Church
June 11, 2006
Can You Forgive?
I would like to tell you a true story. It occurred during the holocaust and I will do my best to leave out as much of the gruesome details as I can. The story I have comes from the book called “The Sunflower.” Listen to this story and consider how you might have reacted. Again, this will not be a pleasant story. And I will not tell you the conclusion until we are done.
Simon Wiesenthal was a young Jewish architect in Austria. Along with so many other Jews, he was placed into a concentration camp in Mauthausen, Austria. He was certain he would die there. In fact, the majority of the friends Wiesenthal made while he was in the concentration camp, either died or were killed.
One afternoon Wiesenthal was given the job of cleaning garbage from an impoverished hospital outside the concentration camp. The only patients in the hospital were German soldiers who were wounded fighting at the Russian front. A nurse took Wiesenthal by the arm and brought him to the bedside of a German SS trooper, named Karl.
Karl told Wiesenthal about his upbringing, his home and his activity in the German army. Karl told Wiesenthal about the many atrocities he had seen and been involved in. The most poignant story Karl told was the time the German army herded about 200 Jews into a house. They had the Jewish people carry kerosene into the house and pour it all around, then they threw hand grenades at the house, igniting it on fire; and shooting those who tried to jump out. There were very powerful images running through Wiesenthal’s mind through this story.
Wiesenthal wanted to leave the room on a number of occasions, but he did not. Instead he listened to Karl’s story. Finally, Karl asked Wiesenthal for forgiveness. It would be the only way Karl could die in peace.
If it is possible to put yourself in Simon Wiesenthal’s situation, what would you have done?
Thirty years after this occurred Wiesenthal ended his book, with the same question. He struggled for many years about this encounter. So he asked many distinguished religious and spiritual people, what they would have done. In this book he retold the story along with what he did. He also told what others would have done.
- What does your gut tell you?
- Would you have forgiven Karl?
- Would you have walked out of the room?
- Would you have told him he was evil and deserved to rot in hell?
- My friends what would you have done?
As Catholic priest, Matthew Fox his response, he included these words, “Simon did take the man’s hand and hold it. And he did swat away flies that bothered the dying - guilt ridden soldier. By holding his hand, Simon was being present and being human. Though holding his hand repulsed him after more of the horror story was revealed, still he stayed in the room and listened. Listening was his gift, listening was his act of compassion.”
After Karl died, his final belongings were given to Wiesenthal at Karl’s request. After his release from the concentration camp, Wiesenthal made a trip to Karl’s home, and met his mother. She showed him pictures of Karl and spoke of Karl as a “good boy” who went against their wishes and desires. Wiesenthal did not tell Karl’s mother the gruesome stories Karl told him, instead he lied and said he met him on a train when he was dying.
What did Wiesenthal do. He explained, For a long while, Simon Wiesenthal said nothing. He wrote, “At last I made up my mind . . .” Simon Wiesenthal . . . pulled his hand away and walked out of that room, leaving Karl to die alone and without forgiveness and peace.
Was Wiesenthal correct in what he did?
Are there sins that are unforgivable?
Are we called to forgive the unforgivable sins?
Can we forgive acts that are not committed against us?
RESPONSES FROM OTHERS:
Most of the responses were that Wiesenthal should not have forgiven that man. They felt it was good not to forgive him. Some even said that forgiving Karl would have been a very bad thing. Most also admitted that they do not know what they would have done if they were in Wiesenthal’s place. Some of the quotes of these men and women were:
- “I would have strangled him.”
- “We cannot forgive murderers.”
- “I believe you followed a proper and honest path.”
- “To forgive everything means that one is lacking in discrimination, in true
feeling, in memory.”
- “One cannot and should not go around happily killing and torturing and then,
when the moment has come, simply ask and receive forgiving.”