The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

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The Sunflower Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Sunflower Include:

For more information about teaching The Holocaust, see our History of the Holocaust Teacher Guide.

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The Sunflower Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Sunflower Plot Diagram

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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a book. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Even true stories, like memoirs, can have a plot arch. Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc of The Sunflower with a three-cell storyboard, containing the major parts of the plot diagram: the Exposition, the Climax, and the Resolution or a six-cell storyboard with Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution. For each cell have students create a scene that shows their understanding of that part of the book and summarize their understanding.

The Sunflower Plot Diagram Example


Simon and his friends Arthur, Josek, are prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp. They work cleaning up medical waste at a converted army hospital for wounded German soldiers. One day, on his way to work, Simon is stopped by a nurse, and taken to the bedside of a dying, young Nazi soldier.


Confused why he is there, Simon asks Karl what he wants with a Jew. Karl proceeds to tell him a story about atrocities he committed during his time serving as an SS soldier, primarily, how he set a building on fire with over many Jewish families inside, then shot them as they attempted to jump out the windows to escape the flames.


After telling Simon what he had done, Karl asks for Simon’s forgiveness. Karl felt that the only way to die in peace was to clear his conscious and ask forgiveness from a Jew. However, Simon leaves the room without answering him. That night, Simon discusses the moral issue with friends in his barracks. The next day, when he returns, Karl is dead.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of The Sunflower.

  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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The Sunflower Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the book, and support their choices with details from the text.

The Sunflower Themes to Look For & Discuss


Much of the book focuses on the question that plagued Wiesenthal his entire life; should he have forgiven Karl? Throughout the book, he questions the act of forgiveness and what it truly means. Even more fascinating is reading and examining the thoughts and reactions of others from the book and from the symposium. Through his story and the responses it generates, readers learn that each choice or opinion is personal.


Although the reader can clearly see that Wiesenthal is concerned with forgiveness, he is really more concerned with Justice. His deeper question in the face of forgiveness is whether or not he, or anyone else, has the right to make statements against atrocities not committed against them, or to speak for a group of people. In the case of Karl the SS soldier, would it have been just for Wiesenthal to forgive him in this instance? When is it our right to forgive?


In the book, Wiesenthal describes many prominent times of silence. The first being his silence in response to Karl's question. The second refers to the silence Karl describes after his father boycotted him for joining the Hitler youth. Third, was the silence Simon presented to Karl’s mother when he went to her house. And finally, the silence of God, which Simon discusses often with Arthur and Josek. They believe that God has turned his back in their time of need; He is silent for the Jewish people.

Symbols and Motifs to Look For & Discuss

The Sunflower

In the book, Wiesenthal is often mesmerized by the sunflowers that lie, beautifully planted, over the graves of dead Nazi soldiers. The sunflowers represented a connection to the living word, a world that Wiesenthal no longer felt he was a part of as a prisoner. Moreover, the sunflower was a looming reminder that there would be no one to mourn him, or to plant flowers on his grave. Thus, the sunflower symbolizes the loss of life, injustice, and dehumanization of Jewish people by the Nazis.

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The Sunflower Character Map Graphic Organizer

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As students read, a storyboard can serves as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information and details about important characters. With character mapping, it’s easy for students to follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enriching.

For The Sunflower have students not only track characters based of of Wiesenthal’s description but also track their initial reaction or response to Simon's question. In the last box have students explain the reason they believe each character responded the way they did. They can use opinion or evidence from the text.

You can click on this map and create a copy on your teacher account. Use it as is, or to edit it for the level of your class. Printing it as worksheets, for your students to complete while reading, is a fast and easy way to incorporate this character map into your classroom.

The Sunflower Characters

Simon Wiesenthal The author and narrator of The Sunflower. He is confronted by a dying Nazi soldier seeking forgiveness and is unable to answer his plea.
Karl A 21-year-old Nazi soldier, who committed atrocities during WWII. He seeks out Simon because he is Jewish and asks Simon’s forgiveness from his deathbed.
Josek Simon’s friend, who has lost his faith in God. He discusses the question of forgiving Karl, at length. Josek’s reaction to Simon's question is that Simon didn't have the right to forgive someone for something done against others. Josek would have clearly denied Karl forgiveness.
Arthur Simon’s friend, who has lost his faith in God. He discusses the question of forgiving Karl, at length. He is known as a cynic. Arthur's reaction to the question is to feel relieved there is one less SS officer in the world. He reminds Simon that the sunflowers he covets will die and rot away.
Adam Adam formerly studied architecture in Russia, until his family was annihilated by the Nazi’s. His response to Simon’s question is that he would see a murderer die 10 times a day.
Bolek A Polish Catholic prisoner in a new camp where Simon was transferred. Bolek has a varied response to the question of forgiveness. He believes that Simon should not have forgiven Karl, instead he says Simon did the right thing by listening to a dying man's confession. In Bolek’s view, only God can pardon a man for his sins.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in The Sunflower and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Character Information, Attitudes/Beliefs, and Response to Forgiveness.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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The Sunflower Vocabulary Lesson Plan Graphic Organizer

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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that uses vocabulary from The Sunflower. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the book and an example of a visual vocabulary board

The Sunflower Vocabulary

  • altruist
  • Hitler Youth
  • expulsion
  • callously
  • indignant
  • atrocities
  • irrefutable
  • scrutinize
  • juncture
  • deterrent
  • permeated
  • blighted
  • volition
  • eloquent
  • despondently

In the vocabulary board students can choose between coming up with their use of the vocabulary board, finding the specific example from the text, or depicting it without words.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in The Sunflower by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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A Synopsis of The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal combines a memoir and a symposium on an event that occurred while he was held captive in a Nazi concentration camp.

One day, while Simon was on a work detail, he was stopped by a nurse who came up to him and asked if he was a Jew. After answering her, she took him into a nearby hospital building, to see Karl, a young, dying Nazi soldier. Karl’s head was completely bandaged, however, he was able to speak through a small slit created over his mouth. Nervous about being there, Simon inquires why the man requested a Jew. Karl then began to tell Simon his story, including things he did during the war that he must get off his chest before he dies.

The crux of Karl's story started with his time fighting in Russia. Karl tells of the heinous crimes he committed as a Nazi. He was forced to burn a building down, with two hundred Jews inside. As he watched, people began to jump from the windows. He and his comrades were ordered to shoot them. Later Karl’s unit moved into Crimea, where he was wounded by a grenade after the haunting memory clouded his ability to fight.

Karl tells Simon the reason he requested him: to ask forgiveness, so he may die in peace. Simon, unsure what to do, leaves the room without a word, going back to his barracks to think. The next day, when he returned to the hospital, Karl had died.

Simon felt plagued by his decision to walk away, and has never reconciled if what he did what was right. In the symposium of the book, many theologians, political leaders, and famous members of the global community wrote to discuss their opinions on the question that haunts Simon: was forgiveness right?

“The crux of the matter is, of course, the question of forgiveness. Forgetting is something that time alone takes care of, but forgiveness is an act of volition . . ."

Essential Questions for The Sunflower

  1. What kind of hate is racism? Does racism exist in our society today?
  2. What is forgiveness?
  3. Who can decide if a person deserves to be forgiven?
  4. How do a person's beliefs affect the way they see the world?

Check out other teacher guides on history and literature during World War II and Holocaust

The History of the Holocaust

Introduction to World War II

World War II: 1939-1941

World War II: 1942-1945

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Night by Elie Wiesel

The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal

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•   (English) The Sunflower   •   (Español) El Girasol   •   (Français) Le Tournesol   •   (Deutsch) Die Sonnenblume   •   (Italiana) il Girasole   •   (Nederlands) The Sunflower   •   (Português) O Girassol   •   (עברית) החמנית   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) عباد الشمس   •   (हिन्दी) सूरजमुखी   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Подсолнечник   •   (Dansk) The Sunflower   •   (Svenska) The Sunflower   •   (Suomi) Sunflower   •   (Norsk) The Sunflower   •   (Türkçe) Ayçiçeği   •   (Polski) Słonecznik   •   (Româna) Floarea-soarelui   •   (Ceština) Slunečnice   •   (Slovenský) Slnečnica   •   (Magyar) a Napraforgó   •   (Hrvatski) Suncokret   •   (български) Слънчогледа   •   (Lietuvos) Saulėgrąžų   •   (Slovenščina) Sončnice   •   (Latvijas) Saulgriezes   •   (eesti) Sunflower