Holocaust Talk Focuses on Forgiveness, Healingby Gary James '10 • September 13, 2007 Share:
Forgiveness can be a complicated and controversial proposal in some circumstances. Eva Kor would probably know this better than anyone else. She is a Holocaust survivor who spent ten months of her life in Auschwitz Concentration Camp as a research experiment with her twin Miriam. She has decided to forgive the Nazis and thereby free herself. But her choice to forgive has been met with mixed reaction.
Mrs. Kor currently lives in Terre Haute, Indiana and works as a Real Estate Agent. Center for Academic Enrichment Assistant Gina Bowman organized two days of events surrounding her life and story through its Experience Indiana Program. Forgiving Dr. Mengele, a documentary about the Holocaust survivor, was shown Tuesday night in Baxter 101. Mrs. Kor also held a talk about her decision to forgive the Nazis the next day.
The film was created by Bob Hercules and Cheri Pugh. It traces Mrs. Kor’s life as well as the power and paradox of her decision to forgive the Nazis. She grew up in Transylvania, Romania, in the thirties and forties. When she was ten years old, she and her family were sent to Auschwitz. When Mrs. Kor, her twin, and her mother were walking around the camp, they realized their father and older sisters were gone. They never saw them again. The SS wanted to know more about the twins and separated them from their mother. They were placed under the supervision of Dr. Josef Mengele, who ran tests on twins because they were thought to be the perfect control group for experiments.
On the first night, Mrs. Kor recounts visiting the latrine because she could not sleep. She saw the scattered corpses of three naked children. It was at that point that she made a silent promise that she would not let what happened to them happen to her and her sister. They endured countless injections of substances that made them ill. Miriam was given a drug that stopped her kidneys from growing. They would be placed in a room, naked. Mengele would compare the size of their skulls and eyes. Both had come close to death, but Eva did everything she could to keep them alive, including stealing food.
Auschwitz was liberated in 1944 by Allied Forces. Eva went back to Romania for five years. She applied for a visa and moved to Israel in 1950.
“Being there was the first time I didn’t feel like there was something wrong with being myself," Kor said. “The first I felt like I could like myself.”
Eva moved to Terre Haute in 1960, married Michael Kor, another survivor, and had two children, Alex and Rina. Kor’s accent made it difficult to find people to hire her. During Halloween, people would deface their property, once even painting a swastika on their house. The marker brought back painful memories.
“The scars follow us and never really know where it catches up,” Kor said.
Mrs. Kor and Miriam never talked about the camp until 1985. Due to Mengele’s experiments, Miriam’s kidneys were still as they were when she was 10. Mrs. Kor gave her one of her kidneys, the doctors still needed to know what she was injected with to save her.
Mrs. Kor searched feverishly for anyone who could help, but Miriam died in 1993. Two months after, she met Dr. Hans Münch, the only person acquitted at the Auschwitz trials. He could not help her find more information about Dr. Mengele’s experiments, but he did help her find peace. They shared stories, and Münch shared his remorse about what happened. They went to the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1994 and Mrs. Kor formally forgave him. Her act of forgiveness prompted her friends and the media to ask her if she could forgive Mengele and the Nazis who ripped her family apart.
This started the thought process that led her to forgiving the Dr. Mengele and the Nazis and freeing herself from the burden she had been carrying for all those years.
It’s time to forgive but not forget,” Kor said. “It’s time to heal the wounds. As a victim, you feel powerless. I had power to forgive Nazis and no one can give it away. Victims need to heal themselves. I’m trying to get people to understand that forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrator. It was has everything to do with the victim empowering himself or herself.”
Many people, including scholars and Holocaust survivors, challenged Eva’s decision to forgive the Nazis.
“I don’t have permission to forgive Nazis,” said Jona Laks, a former Mengele twin. “I can’t deny parents were taken and put in mass graves. It’s never out of my mind. I do not know how to enjoy things. Forgiveness may cause people to forget.”
“Do others have to give you permission to heal your own heart?” Kor responded.
“Forgiveness means that whatever was done to me cannot keep me from being what I want to be. Many of them will die without being free.”
The documentary also showed Eva’s willingness to test her idea of forgiveness in other areas. At the behest of Sami Adwan, Professor of Education at Bethlehem University and a co-Director of the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME), Eva met a number of Palestinian activists in the West Bank. They talked about perceived abuses they had suffered at the hands of Israel. Kor did not want to hear it.
“I felt trapped,” Kor said. “I felt uncomfortable and scared. The meeting was disappointing.”
The exchange between Kor and the Palestinian activists raises the question of how ideas of forgiveness translate when people are still fighting for their lives.
The forty-five people who attended the viewing left the room eager to talk about their reaction to the it.
“I think her entire feeling of forgiveness is correct,” said Pierce Green of Crawfordsville. “Say if someone borrows your bike without permission. You can’t hate them for the rest of your life. You have to forgive. I don’t know if I could.”
“I understand what she wants to do for herself,” said Kathi Fredereck. “It has nothing to do with Nazis or anything. It has to do with her and getting the hate out of her heart and mind.”
“I believe that her ideas of forgiveness are her own and those that question them and argue with her about it are fight an uphill battle,” Leon Back ’10 said. “She is a strong woman. She's made up her mind to be at peace with what has happened and she calls that peace forgiveness. Why anyone would want to challenge that is beyond me.”