Would You Have Forgiven a Nazi?

Speak Up

“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The moment came and went so fast, Simon Wiesenthal wasn’t able to fully process it at the time. But he spent the rest of his life second-guessing what he had done … or not done.

Simon was a Holocaust survivor. He suffered unspeakable evil and lived through it. After the war, he was walking through a town in which he once lived. He came across his old school. It has been turned into a hospital. As he walked through the building, a nurse approached him and asked if he was a Jew. Simon answered yes and was taken to a room that used to be the dean’s office.

Simon found himself at the bedside of a dying, young Nazi soldier. The Nazi, haunted by the crimes he had committed, wanted to confess his crimes to a Jew, hoping to receive forgiveness. Simon listened to the man’s story and then, when asked to speak a word of forgiveness, he remained silent.

He said nothing at all.

He turned and walked out of the room.

Simon replayed the event in his head over and over in the years to come. He discussed it with his Jewish friends. They assured him he did the right thing. The Nazi soldier didn’t deserve forgiveness, they said.

Still, Simon remained troubled.

He wrote a book called The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. In the book, he poses a simple question: “What would you have done if you were in my shoes?” The book includes responses from 53 people: theologians, political leaders, writers, psychiatrists, human rights activists, Holocaust survivors, former Nazis, and victims of attempted genocides.

Some respondents wrote that they would forgive. Others said they would withhold forgiveness.

Forgiveness can be a complex issue. We never want to minimize another person’s pain or bypass true repentance.

A lot could be said about forgiveness. Books have been written about it. The Book, the Bible, is about forgiveness.

Jesus keeps it simple for us. He keeps us grounded. “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

First things first: God forgives us. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

Secondly: God’s forgiveness leads us to forgive others.

We can deliberate the timing of forgiveness, the words used, and other factors. But we cannot dispute God’s expectation that we forgive.

Forgiveness can’t change the past, but it can enlarge the future.

I’ve never heard anyone say, “I wish I would have held onto anger longer. I wish I would have dwelled on the hurt at greater length.”

I have heard people say they feel relieved because they’ve forgiven someone. They’ve experienced a release of tension within them.

Freedom.

An ability to move forward.

Forgiveness unlocks those possibilities.

Tomorrow: The Top 5 Temptations for Americans.

Yesterday: Worrier for Hire!

On Wednesday, July 1, we’re opening the church from 7-8 p.m. for a guided prayer experience. It’s titled “Speak Up: Prayer Vigil for Healing and Peace in America.” We’ll be walking through the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer and praying for specific needs in our nation.

 

Author: Christopher Kennedy

Senior Pastor at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, School, and Child Care in San Antonio, Texas. Husband to my beloved Ashley. Dad to the four most wonderful children in the world.

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