Forgiving the Unforgivable!
By James Roswell Quinn

In Support of Project Forgive

In 1981, I attended a talk in Evanston, Illinois, I will never forget. The speaker, A Course In Miracles teacher, was famous for his "forgiveness" messages, so most of the people in attendance had a pretty good idea of what he was going to be talking about.  It promised to be an inspirational evening to people quite open to his concepts.  This was not a hostile crowd.
I discovered in an impromptu survey of several people around me, I was probably the only person in the audience that hadn't read any of his books.  I decided to remedy this situation, and went to the lobby and bought one.  I thought that perhaps I would be able to get it autographed later.
The speaker came out to a rousing ovation, and spoke for over an hour on the power of love and forgiveness.  He would tell a story which evoked tears from us, then had us laughing a few minutes later.  He spoke beautifully and effortlessly.  Everyone was having a marvelous time.

Then he said something that I would never have said in a public talk. "You have to forgive your enemies," he began, "and you have to forgive family members who've hurt you." So far, so good.

"You have to forgive strangers who've stepped on your toes, or even accosted you," he continued to even more applause. "You must forgive yourself for the people you've hurt."

"Forgiveness is the key to peace and happiness." He was on a roll and we responded with continued applause and cheering ... until he said ...

"In fact, the Jews will never be free until they forgive Hitler."

Our celebration of good feelings hit a wall and there was an abrupt silence. You could actually hear a collective gasp of disbelief at what had just been spoken, followed by an "explosion" of vehemence the likes of which I have never witnessed.

Almost as he spoke the words, "In fact, the Jews will never be free until they forgive Hitler," a tiny woman in the third or fourth row, stood up and started screaming at him. Her tirade was a mixture of profanity, insults and tears which was quite difficult to decipher. However, what I did understand sent a chill down my spine.

This lady was a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp. It was clear she had a hate for the Nazi's which would not tolerate any attempt to diminish her resentment and loathing.

She lived in nearby Skokie, where many survivors of concentration camps settled after World War II. I imagine there were several holocaust survivors in the audience... and perhaps many of their children. This was not the place to say, "In fact, the Jews will never be free until they forgive Hitler."

For several minutes she spat her hate at the speaker, and then literally collapsed of exhaustion into the arms of the people sitting next to her. She was totally spent.

I had been watching the speaker during her attack. Never have I seen a man so naked before. He just stood there and took it. You could see the depth of compassion on his face. I watched him struggle to find something, anything, to say to her. Of course, there was nothing he could say to relieve her anguish.

However, he knew this woman really did need to forgive for her own sake. But, any response on his part such as "Hating the Nazi's is killing you," or "Forgiveness is divine," would sound like a cheap platitude and he knew it.

His mind appeared to be running a mile a minute. He could not find the words. His talk was destroyed and he had nowhere to go, so he simply stood there looking compassionately at the woman as she tried to regain her breath.

Then I heard someone crying. The only noise in this theatre of stunned listeners started to attract attention.

I turned to see a young man standing and weeping uncontrollably. Finally, he spoke but it was difficult to understand his words, because of his crying ... and his thick German accent. But if I live to be a thousand, I hope I never forget what he said that evening.

"Ma’am," he began "nobody has a right to hate more than you do. I can't imagine the horrors that you've lived through. I can't imagine anybody treating another human in the ways you were treated."

"What makes it worse for me, however, is you are literally speaking of my parents and grandparents. It shames me as a German. Nobody has a right to hate more than you do," he said kindly and with compassion.

"But," and he pointed at the speaker and continued quite firmly, "you must listen to this man. I have been having the holocaust shoved down my throat since I was a child. I have been made to feel guilty and responsible. It has made me angry because I was not alive when these atrocities occurred."

"I am not alone," he continued. "Thousands, perhaps millions of young Germans are getting fed up with being judged for acts that were committed by others and if it keeps up, they will react. You did not deserve to be treated the way you were treated, and we have not deserved to be made guilty for it. Keep on hating ... Hitler would approve."

The speaker visibly sighed with relief, as the young German made his way through the crowd. When he reached the woman, they embraced. I watched as people reached in and hugged the people who were hugging the people who were hugging the two of them.

I would have given anything to have been a part of that hug, but I was too far away. However, the speaker was being ignored. So I was able to go up on the stage, give him a hug, and have him sign my copy of his book.

Finally, he got everyone to take their seats and spoke some beautiful words in an attempt to bring closure to what we had all witnessed. However, I knew it was the words of this young man that we would all remember.

I have repeated this story many times. Hate begets hate. Just perhaps, hating the haters is not the answer. Or, as comic-pianist, Tom Lehrer once said ...

"I know there are people in this world who do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that."

About The Author...

James Roswell Quinn was born in Seattle, Washington in 1950. He graduated from The University of Southern California in 1972.

A dynamic and powerful speaker, Quinn is deeply committed to finding and sharing methods for people to increase their effectiveness by identifying and overcoming limitations resulting from Control-Based leadership and Fear-Based reactions. He describes the process as one of creating Love-Based leaders.

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