Revenge Letters


(LT letters in response to story about Holocaust concentration camp survivor who forgave captors.)

Sir, Eva Kor’s capacity to forgive is moving, especially in a world which “nurtures victimhood” (Opinion, Apr 25). Her response must not be misused as a yardstick to judge other survivors, however. It’s not hard to understand those who remain haunted by terrors and don’t forgive. There are bonds of loyalty with those who perished. Talk of forgiveness easily becomes sentimental, undermining recognition of what was done. No one is entitled to proffer forgiveness for hurts inflicted on others than themselves.

It’s dangerous, too, to sever the moral bonds between perpetrators and their actions. Perpetrators must face the journey of remorse and acknowledgment. The generosity of victims can help, but not release, them from it. To turn forgiveness into forgetting corrodes moral responsibility.

Yet when someone finds the courage to confront and forgive those who hurt them profoundly, and they too show deep remorse, it is remarkable and inspiring.

Sir, Forgiveness enables reconciliation and works wonders. I vividly remember watching Nelson Mandela appear at a rally in a football stadium when he was standing as president. It was packed with thousands of people baying for the blood of those who had oppressed them for so long under apartheid. When he stood up Mandela said, quite simply, “If I can forgive them, so can you.” There was no answer to that, coming from someone who had been imprisoned for 27 years. It was this extraordinary capacity to forgive, as much as anything else, that enabled the reconciliation which meant that South Africa became a democracy without descending into a blood bath.

However, forgiveness is not just about the wonders it can do for others, it’s about the good that it can do to us. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another person who worked tirelessly for justice in South Africa, observed that “to forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest . . . you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred . . . you can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person, too.”

Sir, Eva Kor says she has “forgiven” her death-camp tormentors. Meira Ben-Gad (letter, Apr 28) says that remorse by the offender has to precede any rational act of forgiveness. In fact, the nature of human trauma requires that several stages of grief must be negotiated before it is wise or ever meaningful to offer forgiveness, a fact which religious notions on this subject tend to ignore. If people terrify you to the point of death and then you escape, it is inevitable you will experience feelings of depression, confusion, fierce anger, a burning hatred and the desire for revenge. All these are normal responses and must not be suppressed but expressed. To forgive prematurely (and sometimes at all) may do more emotional damage. Fellow, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy Sir, I’m pleased to know that I am not the only person to be moved by Eva Kor’s story (“Triumph of good”, letter, Apr 27). However, I take issue with Meira Ben-Gad’s suggestion (Apr 28) that true forgiveness can only follow true remorse.

To make my decision to forgive dependent on someone else’s decision about whether to express remorse is to disempower me and deny me the opportunity to receive healing. My own Christian faith teaches that God’s offer of forgiveness is prior to my expression of remorse or repentance (the father of the Prodigal Son runs to meet him, before the son has even said a word). Indeed the grace and mercy shown in that offer of forgiveness (a very costly offer in the Christian story) is what inspires me to repent (turn my life around) and seek God’s help in showing mercy and forgiveness to others.

Sir, I feel truly sorry for Meira Ben-Gad if she cannot forgive without receiving remorse from the perpetrator. If she could, she would be much happier. Forgiveness is a gift, not something you should put a price on. It is called grace.