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A Small Screw in a Big Racist Machine: Forgiveness Without Repentance


Eva Kor, Holocaust survivor, outside Auschwitz. Image credit: First Run Features


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.


Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina


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.


Brandt Jean hugs Amber Guyger in the courtroom Wednesday after saying he had forgiven her for killing his brother Botham.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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