We can apparently forgive the people who caused the Holocaust, according to Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. While forgiveness of even the worst atrocities can be a helpful way to overcome it, this particular statement was odd for him to say, considering neither he nor his family were victims. (Who is he to call for forgiveness?)
Another problem is that most of the people who have that right to forgive (or not) are dead. That didn’t seem to concern Bolsonaro one bit:
The far-right Bolsonaro made a solidarity visit to Israel last month during which he raised eyebrows by asserting, after a tour of the Holocaust memorial Yad Vadshem, that the Nazis had been “leftists.”
Addressing a group of Brazilian evangelicals on Thursday, Bolsonaro said: “We can forgive, but we can’t forget. That’s my phrase. Those who forget their past are condemned not to have a future.”
But President Reuven Rivlin, whose role in Israel is largely ceremonial, wrote on Twitter: “Whether they be individuals or organizations, party heads or heads of state, no one will ordain the Jewish people’s forgiveness, nor can this be obtained through any interest.”
Yad Vashem said in a separate statement: “It is no one’s place to decide who can be forgiven and whether there should be forgiveness for the crimes of the Holocaust.”
In the essay collection The Sunflower, Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal recalls an encounter with a dying SS man who selected him at random to seek forgiveness for his crimes. It didn’t matter to the officer which Jew it was that was brought to him — he just needed a Jew to absolve him, even if that particular Jew had never crossed paths with him before.
The rest of the book is a collection of essays from people of various religious backgrounds on whether anyone has the right to forgive crimes that did not personally happen to them. The overwhelming response is “no.” Only the person(s) directly offended have the right to grant forgiveness.
Why couldn’t Bolsonaro have said “Never forget” like everyone else?
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