Author Archive: directorifi
The Irish Times, Dublin, Ireland – The court trial for a former Nazi concentration camp guard has triggered an emotional battle among Holocaust survivors over whether they can – or should – forgive their tormentors.
Former SS Sgt. Oskar Groening is being tried in Germany as an accessory to the murder of at least 300,000 Jews at Auschwitz. (See the Forgiveness News article immediately below this one dated 4/28/15 for more on the 93-year-old Groening’s trial.)
Now 81-year-old Auschwitz concentration camp survivor Eva Mozes Kor, who was subjected to horrific experiments at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp by camp doctor Josef Mengeleis, is being critized after publicly forgiving Gröening for his role in the crimes against her family.
Other concentration camp survivors (co-plaintiffs in the trial) have attacked Kor for staging a “one- woman rehabilitation” show.
“Being a co-plaintiff in the name of the murdered while using this role for public and personal forgiveness – that doesn’t fit together,” they said in a statement. “We cannot forgive Mr Gröening for his participation in the murder of our relatives.”
Kor, however, is unrepentant. She says her show of forgiveness is a gesture of respect to Holocaust victims and has given her inner peace.
“Even if every Nazi was hanged for their crimes, my life would be the same,” she said. “But if we give each other the hand as humans – good, bad and indifferent – then something can happen.”
Kor added, “I’m a survivor, not a victim. Fostering victimhood doesn’t help victims and society shouldn’t encourage it. We cannot heal victims by continuing victimhood, but by encouraging forgiveness.”
Read the full story: “Auschwitz survivors row over forgiveness”
Why do you think that societies have not discussed forgiveness in an open and large-group way? I have never seen a discussion of this as I have, for example, about such important issues as the death penalty, abortion, and other issues that have direct implications for the overall quality of life.
I, too, am puzzled by the silence over centuries regarding a thoroughgoing discussion of forgiveness in any society in the world. Has it just been off the radar of leaders? Have the burdens of justice and injustice been so large that mercy has been left by the side of the road? It could be that leaders historically have considered forgiveness to be part of religion and so have compartmentalized it there. Now that forgiveness has made its way into philosophy, psychology, law, medicine, and education, it seems to me that it is time for leaders to encourage a discussion of forgiveness in families, in schools, and between groups and countries that experience conflict. The world would be a better place with forgiveness growing up alongside justice in many communities, societies, and countries.
I heard this statement from a person who holds a considerable degree of academic influence. The learned scholar, however, did not give a learned response as I will show in this little essay.
Suppose that Brian is driving his car and is hit by a drunk driver. Brian’s leg is broken and he must undergo surgery and subsequent rehabilitation therapy if he again will have the full use of his leg. What happened to him was unjust and now the burden of getting back a normal leg falls to him. He has to get the leg examined, say yes to the surgery, to the post-surgical recovery, and to months of painful rehab. The “burden of change” specifically when it comes to his leg is his and his alone.
Yes, the other driver will have to bear the burden of paying damages, but this has no bearing on restoring a badly broken leg. Paying for such rehabilitation is entirely different from doing the challenging rehab work itself.
Suppose now that Brian takes the learned academic’s statement above to heart. Suppose that he now expects the other driver to somehow bear the burden of doing the rehab. How will that go? The other driver cannot lift Brian’s leg for him or bear the physical pain of walking and then running. Is this then unfair to Brian? Should we expect him to lie down and not rehab because, well, he has a burden of restoring his own leg? It would seem absurd to presume so.
Is it any different with injustice requiring the surgery and rehab of the heart? If Melissa was unfairly treated by her partner, is it unfair for Melissa to do the hard work of forgiveness? She is the one whose heart is hurting. The partner cannot fix the sadness or confusion or anger……even if he repents. Repentance will not automatically lead to a restored heart because trust must be earned little by little. As Melissa learns to trust, she still will need the heart-rehab of forgiveness (struggling to get rid of toxic anger and struggling to see the worth in one who saw no worth in her) that only she can do. Once hurt by another, it is the victim who must bear the burden of the change-of-heart.
We must remember: The rehab and recovery are temporary. If the forgiver refuses to engage in such recovery, then the injurer wins twice: once in the initial hurt and a second time when the injured refuses to change because of a woeful misunderstanding that he or she must passively wait for someone else to bear the burden of change for him or her.
Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas tend to have bad consequences. Learned academics are not necessarily learned in all subjects across all cases.
I was in what I thought was a good relationship for almost three years and then my partner abandoned ship. As I look back on it now, she never was going to come back, but once I started to forgive her, I waited and waited and waited for her, hoping she would accept my forgiveness. It never happened. I feel kind of ripped off by forgiveness because it kept me hanging around too long, about a year after she dumped me. Any insight would be appreciated.
You raise a good point about a possible weakness in the virtue of forgiveness if—if—we appropriate that virtue exclusively without justice. When we forgive, as you say, we do sometimes delay exiting an untenable relationship as we stand in the hope of reconciliation. Even when we bring justice alongside forgiveness, we still may delay the inevitable because forgiveness does hold out that hope of reconciliation.
So, forgivers need to realize that the hope of reconciliation may not bring about a true reconciliation. Yet, as forgivers wait in hope, they have to keep asking the question, “Is the other capable of entering into a true, loving relationship?” If the studied conclusion is “no,” and if trusted confidants agree, then justice needs to come forward so that the forgiver is not left stranded for the rest of his or her life.
Yes, forgiveness may delay the conclusion that the other will never return, but a delay is not a permanent state. Eventually, a forgiver can and should stand in the truth of the other’s incapability of relationship (if this is true) and then act accordingly, but always in love and concern for the other.
“I know what love is,” the sincere Forrest Gump famously proclaimed.
I was a bit taken aback by a recent Facebook discussion. One of my friends proclaimed that love is letting each person do as he or she wishes as long as the actions do not hurt anyone else. The context was this: Her friend insisted on continuing to drink alcohol even though further drink could kill her. “It is not hurting me and she just can’t help it the way she drinks,” her statement went.
The ancient Greeks had four words for love. One, storge, is the natural love of a mother for her baby, for example. A second form of love, philia, constitutes the natural love that we have come to call brotherly love in which related people cooperate with each other and have a natural affection. Eros, or romantic love, is the third. The fourth, which was vaguely specified in ancient Greece, agape, came to be known by such scholars as Thomas Aquinas as love that is in service to others for the others’ good.
I think that my Facebook friend had in mind the agape variety of love as she proclaimed her friend’s right to drink herself to death. Yet, such tolerance is a poor substitute for the real-thing of agape love because letting the friend die, perhaps a painful or even tortuous death, hardly is in service to that other.
Since when did tolerance become equated with agape love? “As long as it does not hurt me” sounds much more self-serving than other-serving.
Have we so privatized love that it means letting others do as they please regardless of the outcome…..as long as the other really, really wants to do this and as long as I am not directly and concretely harmed by the action? This seems to me to be the antithesis of genuine love, which would express concern and attempt to help, even if this made the helper uncomfortable……or even made the other uncomfortable.
“I know what love is.” Love unexplored and proclaimed as tolerance does not seem much like love to me.