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Forgiveness and the Holocaust


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Iyyar 12, 5771
Recently, someone told me that they can never forgive those who perpetrated the Holocaust, in which they lost some of their relatives. He made the statement that in order to forgive them, the individuals would have to come to him, ask for forgiveness, suffer the death penalty, and then he could forgive them. Obviously, this can’t happen. For example, he doesn’t know who actually murdered his relatives, nor do they know that he is a relative of someone they murdered. So my questions are this: one, when must we forgive someone? What are the conditions that would require one to forgive? Two, if one doesn’t know whom to forgive, can forgiveness be granted anyway, and under what conditions? Three, if one actually did know who committed the offense, but they didn’t ask for forgiveness, and, in the case of murder, weren’t actually executed, can forgiveness be given, and, must forgiveness be given? Kol tuv
Shalom Efrayim, There is a significant difference between the atrocious murderous national genocide of the Nazi Holocaust as opposed to forgiving the crime of a fellow individual Jew. The national enemies of Israel are meant to be hated and hunted, and not only punished but so severely disciplined that it will deter all future haters and terrorists against Israel. Any lover of Israel, and for that matter, any moral person, should have zero compassion and absolutely no forgiveness for the cruel, maiming, annihilating monsters who shamed all of mankind with their barbaric and sadistic behavior. I suggest you read up more on the holocaust, and the more you read, the more you will understand that “Those who love G-d despise evil” (Tehilim 97, 10). Even if an individual Nazi would come and ask forgiveness, morality demands to slap him in the face, tell him to apologize to the ashes of the 6 million Jews that he and his friends gassed, and tell him precisely what the G-d of morality has waiting for him in hell. On the other hand, when a fellow Jew wrongs you, the ideal of brotherly love commands us to rise above feelings of hate or revenge and we must forgive. In such a case we can even grant a “blanket” forgiveness. In fact, many have the custom every night before going to sleep of forgiving anyone who wronged them, and you are surely aware of the custom to do so before Yom Kippur. In extenuating circumstances for serious crimes, it is obviously that much more difficult to forgive even the individual Jew, and in such a case, one should consult his local halachic authority. With Love of Israel, Rav Ari Shvat
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