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Teaching "The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness"

By Sarah Degnan Moje

If a dying German soldier asked you for forgiveness, what would you say? Explore a moral dilemma in the true story of Wiesenthal's experience in a concentration camp. This makes an excellent non-fiction work for your students to read and analyze.

The Sunflower: On the Limits and Possibilities of Forgiveness - High School Lesson Simon Wiesenthal’s non-fiction work is the type of tale that one has to read to believe. Although students hear about the Holocaust over and over again in high school History classes, it is often Wiesenthal’s first-hand account of his experience with a dying soldier of the German Third Reich that brings the story home to each student. For Wiesenthal, the question of forgiveness was not one that was taken lightly and he felt troubled over his choice for decades, which is what prompted him to write his book The Sunflower.

Half of the book focuses solely on Wiesenthal’s story and the other half is a writer’s symposium, with different men and women, of some fame, weighing in on what they would have done had they been in his situation. For students, it is best to teach the book by first using the downloadable Holocaust images power point and just have them discuss, as a group, with a partner, or in a full class discussion, what they notice about each photograph and what emotions it calls to their minds. Allow this part of the lesson to span one to two class periods.

Then, use the downloadable power point on Wiesenthal’s part of the story and assign the reading of his story over a weekend. It is a quick read, less than 90 pages, and once students have completed the reading assignment, they will be ready to view the power point and discuss Wiesenthal’s choice. Your students will come to class ready to discuss not only what Wiesenthal chose, but what they themselves would choose to do as well, if faced with such a difficult situation.