Forgiveness requires certain emotional and spiritual abilities. Like any other endeavor, there are those who seem to have mastered the required skills and whose lives display extraordinary maturity. The following Forgiveness Heroes serve as role models for every student of forgiveness.
Regardless of your belief system, Jesus stands out as a supreme example of forgiveness. Jesus was tortured, beaten, publicly humiliated, unfairly tried for sedition, stripped of clothing and nailed to a cross. As he suffocated from his ignominious and horrific abuse, he spoke only a few words. Echoing throughout recorded history, these words were among his last: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).”
In 1962, Nelson Mandela was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government of South Africa and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He served 27 years in prison, initially on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. Amid growing racial strife and fear of civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk negotiated an end to apartheid and was later elected President of South Africa. In order to insure a peaceful transition into power Mandela emphasized reconciliation between the country's racial groups. In order to insure that South Africa did not collapse into mayhem and bloodshed, he created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. Forgiveness was offered and former enemies became reconciled. Without Mandela’s powerful initiative promoting forgiveness, one can only imagine the bloodshed that would followed his release from prison.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”
― Nelson Mandela
Louis Zamperini was a U.S. World War II pilot. On May 27, 1943, his bomber crashed into the ocean killing eight of the 11 men aboard. Along with three other survivors, Zamperini drifted in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days, surviving on rainwater and a few fish and birds they we able to catch. He reached land and was immediately captured by the Japanese military. He was held in captivity in various prisoner-of-war camps. During his years of imprisonment he was continually subjected to harsh and severe beatings by prison guard Mutsuhiro "Bird" Watanabe, who was later determined to be one of the most notorious war criminals of WWII.
Following the war, Zamperini had nightmares about strangling his former captors and began drinking heavily, trying to forget his experiences as a POW. Following his conversion to Christianity, he forgave his captors, and his nightmares ceased.
“I think the hardest thing in life is to forgive. Hate is self-destructive. If you hate somebody, you're not hurting the person you hate, you're hurting yourself. It's a healing, actually, it's a real healing...forgiveness.”
― Louis Zamperini
In 1944, Eva Kor, along with her twin sister Miriam and her mother, arrived in the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. When the family climbed down from the train, an agitated SS guard ran up to them yelling Twins! Twins! A few moments later, Eva and Miriam were torn away from their mother. They never saw her again.
After being selected from among the new arrivals, the sisters were brought to the now-infamous camp doctor Josef Mengele. Mengele had a standing order for twins; he needed them for his medical experiments. Most of the time, he injected one of the twins with poison or with a bacteria or virus and then documented the development of the disease and the onset of death. As soon as the test patient died, he and his assistants would then immediately murder the twin sibling—usually with an injection in the heart—before performing simultaneous autopsies. Some 1,400 pairs of twins fell victim to Mengele’s barbaric experiments. And it was exactly this that he intended to do with the Kor twins. But he had another thing coming, Eva says defiantly. Thanks to an iron will—and a strong immune system—Eva survived the disease Mengele had injected into her veins. I just kept thinking, if I die, then Miriam will be murdered as well.
Kor’s path to peace began with a trip to Germany to meet with a German doctor, Hans Münch, who had worked alongside Mengele in Auschwitz. After World War II ended, the SS-medic faced war crimes charges, but was found not guilty. In contrast to his colleagues, it was found that Münch had not carried out any experiments on his patients.
She was incredibly nervous when she finally found herself standing in front of Münch’s door, Kor says. But then, an elderly gentleman with snow-white hair, a carefully trimmed beard and a shy smile opened the door. Yes, he admitted, he had been there during the gassings. “And that’s my problem,” he went on. He still suffers from depression and nightmares as a result. Kor had gone looking for a monster, but found a human being instead. “I then decided that I would write Münch a letter in which I forgave him,” Kor says.
“Forgiveness is not so much for the perpetrator, but for the victim.”
― Eva Mozes Kor, Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz