Eva Kor survived the Nazis. She survived Auschwitz and the cruel experiments done to her ten-year-old body by the “Angel of Death”, Josef Mengele. 70 years later, in 2015, she found herself face-to-face with Oskar Groening, a former Nazi bookkeeper and SS Guard who was an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews. She shook his hand and told her that she forgave him.
Two months later, and nearly 4,500 miles away, several family members would offer words of forgiveness to Dylann Roof, a young white man who murdered nine African Americans in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. “We already forgive him for what he’s done, and there’s nothing but love from our side of the family,” said Chris Coleman-Singleton the son of one of the victims, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton.
In Dallas, this week, Amber Guyger, a white police officer, was rightfully found guilty of murdering Botham Jean, an innocent black man whose only crime was eating ice cream while sitting on his couch in his own home. In the courtroom, Botham’s brother, Brandt Jean, would hug Guyger and say, “I love you as a person. I don’t wish anything bad on you.”
The forgiveness is seemingly offered without any accountability or acknowledgment by the perpetrator or society as a whole.
All three have been criticized for offering forgiveness. For many, these actions are seen as a slap in the face of history and reality… to the very real pain suffered by millions. The forgiveness is seemingly offered without any accountability or acknowledgment by the perpetrator or society as a whole. These acts of forgiveness only condone and foster the ideologies of hate. It props up the madness.
But there’s something else to this forgiveness that many in white America don’t get: expectation. African Americans, in particular, are seemingly required to forgive acts of racism without society, whites, having to apologize and learn from their actions. Slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, police brutality… every time forgiveness is required but repentance is not. That’s not to say African Americans haven’t called out whites to repent. Whites just don’t require it of themselves. History has taught us because we continue to write it and teach it this way, that racism is in the past and so if blacks do not forgive it’s because they refuse to forget and are clinging to the past. “Racism exists because black people keep talking about it,” is a constant refrain from many whites.
Forgiveness is a very personal and individual act offered from one person to another. However, when it’s played out on social media and in the news that singular act either gives comfort or consternation to a wider audience.
Forgiveness is a very personal and individual act offered from one person to another. However, when it’s played out on social media and in the news that singular act either gives comfort or consternation to a wider audience. Each of us internalizes this act through our lived experiences. Unfortunately, all too often, whites view it as a reassurance that what they did wasn’t that bad because it was forgiven. They learn nothing from it and then don’t seem to understand what all the fuss is about when the next person is murdered. Conversely, justifiable grief and outrage by the victim’s family only makes whites point their fingers and say, “See, I told you so.” You’re damned if you and damned if you don’t.
Oskar Groening, the former Nazi, quietly lived with his sins for over 40 years until going public in response to Holocaust deniers. He incriminated himself. At 93 years old, Groening would stand trial for his crimes. Eva Kor was there, just like she was in Auschwitz during World War II. When asked what she said to him as she shook his hand she replied, “I told him that my forgiveness did not prevent me from accusing him nor from him taking responsibility for his actions.”
“He was a small screw in a big killing machine, and the machine cannot function without the small screws. But obviously, he is a human being.”
Reflecting further on Groening she added, “He was a small screw in a big killing machine, and the machine cannot function without the small screws. But obviously, he is a human being.”
Roof, Guyger, and many others are small screws in a big racist machine. It’s a machine that needs to be dismantled. Perhaps, to truly get rid of racism in America, it’s time for some real repentance before offering forgiveness.