In Simon Wiesenthal's book The Sunflower: On the Possibility and Limits of Forgiveness, Wiesenthal tells the story of a dying German soldier who was guilty of horrendous evil against Jewish men, women, and children, but who desperately wanted forgiveness from and reconciliation with at least one Jew before his death. Wiesenthal, then a prisoner in a camp, was brought to hear the German soldier's story and his pleas for forgiveness. As Wiesenthal understands his own reaction to the German soldier, he did not grant the dying soldier the forgiveness the man longed for. In The Sunflower, Wiesenthal presents reflections on this story by numerous thinkers. Their responses are noteworthy for the highly divergent intuitions they express. In this paper, I consider the conflicting views about forgiveness on the part of the respondents in The Sunflower.
I argue that those respondents who are convinced that forgiveness should be denied the dying German soldier are mistaken. Nonetheless, I also argue in support of the attitude that rejects reconciliation with the dying German soldier. I try to show that, in some cases of grave evil, repentance and making amends are not sufficient for the removal of guilt, and that reconciliation may be morally impermissible, whatever the case as regards forgiveness.