The Sunflower

Simon Wiesenthal barely survived the Holocaust. After World War II, he wrote a book called "The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness." Simon tells the story of when he was brought before a Nazi SS stormtrooper who was badly injured and about to die. The Nazi confessed his crimes and wanted forgiveness from Simon because he was a Jew. Simon didn’t give it to him.

After the war, perhaps many Jews thought the magnitude of the crimes would finally give them the justice they deserved...

But ere long priests, philanthropists, and philosophers implored the world to forgive the Nazis. Most of these altruists had probably never even had their ears boxed, but nevertheless found compassion for the murderers of innocent millions. The priests said indeed that the criminals would have to appear before the Divine Judge and that we could therefore dispense with earthly verdicts against them, which eminently suited the Nazis’ book. Since they did not believe in God they were not afraid of Divine Judgment. It was only earthly justice that they feared. — Simon Wiesenthal

But indeed, the latter part of Simon's statement is not as positive as he thought. Many priests, preachers, atheists, agnostics and humanists all agree with the Nazis that they should never be judged (see Universalism and Narcissism). And if there is a God, He would never be judgmental, so who is Simon to judge? They are obviously willing to put a Holocaust survivor through that mental torture, so the question becomes, whose side are they on? 

In her book on forgiveness, Dr. Maria Mayo describes how she was nearly beaten to death, then (on her hospital bed) pressured to forgive unconditionally. She was told this was the Christian response, the implication being that she would go to hell if she didn’t forgive (highlighting Matthew 6:15 while ignoring Matthew 18:15-35). She responded the same way Simon did - she remained silent. Dr. Mayo describes how Victim Offender Mediation, Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and many pastoral counselors pressure victims to forgive, inflicting additional, needless, bitter pain (see Street Smart Forgiveness). All these efforts rely on a corrupted understanding of forgiveness, driving people away from God. 

After Simon's short story, he asks several influencers to comment on forgiveness.1 Simon includes the infamous, like Albert Speer, who oversaw Hitler's labor camps where Simon was a slave. Should a Nazi or any other criminal go to heaven if they confess their sins and repent? Absolutely — that is the gift that the Messiah offers the whole world (Isaiah 1:17-23, John 3:16).2 But consider how difficult honest confession and repentance becomes for those who have proudly committed so many crimes. No one should fool themselves to think that coming to a confessional (Matthew 7:21-23), repeating a few prayers (Matthew 6:7), or donating to the church (Mark 12:41-44) will forgive murderers, mobsters, thieves or liars (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). There will be a few infamous criminals in heaven (Luke 23:43), but we should trust the Lord’s judgement so much that we will know that person has truly changed, and their crimes have been forgiven, just as ours were (see Faith That Works, Luke 15:7, Revelation 21:8). 

He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. — Deuteronomy 32:4. See also Psalm 18:2, Isaiah 33:10-16, Matthew 7:25-27, 1 Corinthians 10:4 

Hitler claimed that Nazism was a Christian movement. Gott Mit Uns (God Is With Us) was forged into the Nazi belt buckle. It is hard to believe that Nazism could have developed if the two dominant churches in Germany did not lean toward Universalism.3 The Catholic church was not-so-quietly sympathetic to the Nazis in their attempted extermination of the Jews, and after the war they helped provide forged visas so many infamous Nazis could be forgiven. In Simon’s book, a priest states “If asked to forgive, by anyone for anything, I would forgive because God would forgive” (Theodore M. Hesburgh). But his words directly contradict many, many verses in the Bible (see Biblical Forgiveness).4 The other dominant church in Germany, Lutheranism, also leaned toward Universalism, the only known escape from their frightening dogma of Fatalism (see Another Gospel). Once the Nazis were given moral cover, they did their best to eliminate the Jews: the only people that would refuse to forgive their atrocities. Many describe them as stewards of morality. But regarding justice for the Holocaust, Christians have failed miserably.

In 2022, China imprisoned a million people in concentration camps, Afghanistan brutally repressed women, Myanmar continued it’s genocide, Iran murdered protestors, North Korea threatened many cities with nuclear missiles, Russia bombed kindergartens and tortured children, and Palestinians shot hundreds of rockets at Jerusalem and other cities. But the United Nations condemned Israel more than all other nations combined. It is an “Angel of Light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) that assures the bloodthirsty and their apologists that they bring justice and peace, even as they pressure their victims to forgive.


1. The responses to Simon's book come from many famous scholars and dignitaries. But it is shocking to see the breadth of opinion and callousness of thought among Christians on what should be a simple topic. Some opinions were Biblically accurate (see response from Dr. Eva Fleischner, also Biblical Forgiveness). Others betray a profoundly shallow understanding of the Bible, if not deceptive avoidance (1 Peter 2:22) of the well-grounded Jewish and early Christian doctrine of repentance (teshuvah, metanoia). Many would forgive every Nazi, repentant or not, regardless of crime (e.g. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Prize Laureate and Universalist: see his book "Made For Goodness"), while some trade the justice due the victim for the limitless freedom of liberal allies. At minimum, these responses reflect the theological schizophrenia of the world, and from a Biblical perspective, the contagious influence of our Enemy (see 2 Chronicles 26:18-19, Ephesians 6:12, Universalism and Narcissism). There is only one God, and He has only one theology. Humans too often treat it like a plaything (Jeremiah 17:9), like clay to be molded into whatever shape pleases them.

2. It is existentially dangerous to resign the young Nazi to hell while judging ourselves worthy of heaven (Mark 10:17-27). We should do well to remember the axiom “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Many do not recognize the comfort of their sheltered position, nor the sacrifices that were made to enable them to be there, and are quick to say ‘I would have never acted that way, in any circumstance.‘ Those who minimize their own sin do not appreciate the cross, which is their only hope (1 John 1:8-9).

3. See A World Safe for Catholicism: Interwar International Law and Neo-Scholastic Universalism. History of European Ideas. Paolo Amororosa. 2022. In inter-war Europe, it seems many churches made a deal with the devil in order to defeat communism. Instead of standing firmly against Nazism from the beginning, the church tried to be the puppet-master and became the puppet. At bottom, it is the neglect and lack of reverence for basic doctrine (see The Beginning of Knowledge) that led to Christianity's failure in Europe before WWII, from which it has never recovered. Similarly, Universalists today apparently think they can control people's worst instincts by appealing to humanism, but cynicism quickly co-opts any fruit produced.

4. Considering the estimated 50 million deaths caused by the Nazis alone (besides their innumerable sins to the entire world), Hesburgh leaves us with a shockingly cold response. It may line up with Origen and Balthasar (both considered heretics by many), but not with Catholic doctrine, and certainly not the Word. As a priest in a confessional, Hesburgh presumes to know the mind of God, understanding who is truly repentant and who is not. Presuming that God forgives everyone that asks is simply not Biblical. See Deuteronomy 29:20, Joshua 24:19, 2 Kings 24:4, Psalm 109:14, Isaiah 22:14, Lamentations 2:42, Matthew 6:15, Matthew 12:31-32, Matthew 18:32-35, Matthew 26:24, Mark 4:12, John 20:23 etc.