Holocaust survivor believes in power of forgiveness
BY AMY LAVALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent November 1, 2013 5:30PM
Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor speaks to middle school students about her experience as a little girl in the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp during World War II. She and her sister were part of Dr. Josef Mengele's twin experiments. Students from several area middle schools attended the talk on Friday morning, November 1, 2013 at Valparaiso High School. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media
For more on Eva Mozes Kor and the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, go to www.
Updated: December 3, 2013 6:10AM
VALPARAISO — Eva Mozes Kor has a story to share.
It is one of survival and forgiveness, of living through unspeakable horror and never giving up.
In May of 1944, when Kor was 10, she and her parents, her two older sisters and her twin, Miriam, spent four days standing in a cattle car while they were transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Once there, her father and older sisters disappeared; she and Miriam were ripped from their mother’s grip for Nazi experiments conducted on twins by Joseph Mengele. She never saw the rest of her family again.
Friday, Kor told her story to 1,000 eighth-grade and high school students from Valparaiso and Westville. This was the 18th year she’s spoken in Valparaiso.
Her first night at Auschwitz, she went to the latrine, where she saw the corpses of three children on the floor.
“I had never seen anybody dead before but the message was clear; it could happen to Miriam and I,” Kor said, adding she made a silent pledge then to survive and leave the camp with her sister. She never let doubt or fear enter her mind. “I never let go of that image until we were liberated.”
Kor said her ability to defy and outsmart authority came from her turbulent relationship with her father; those abilities helped her survive Auschwitz.
She even fought the Nazis when they branded her with a tattoo, A-7063, still visible on her left arm.
“When my time came, I decided to give them as much trouble as a 10-year-old could give them,” she said, adding it took four people to hold her down and she bit one of the Nazis. “I was not a very cooperating victim.”
That spirit kept her and Miriam alive.
By the time the Soviet Army liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945, Kor and her sister had both nearly died from the experiments conducted by Mengele. They had survived on brown liquid for breakfast, watery cereal for lunch, and a single piece of bread for dinner, until Kor volunteered to be a food carrier and was able to steal potatoes a few days a week.
“Dying in Auschwitz was very easy. Survival was a full-time job,” Kor said. “Once you gave up the struggle to survive, you were as good as dead.”
In the years after Miriam died from cancer after years of kidney disease — most likely the result of Mengele’s poisonous injections — Kor made contact with Hans Munch, one of the doctors at Auschwitz. Munch was responsible for running the gas chamber.
The two took a trip to Auschwitz together on the 50th anniversary of the camp’s liberation, where Munch signed a document at the ruins of the gas chamber verifying the authenticity of the Holocaust for those who claim it never happened.
Kor wanted to find a way to thank him, and decided on a letter of forgiveness.
“What I discovered for myself was life changing. I, the little guinea pig from Auschwitz, had the power to forgive, and nobody could take it away,” she said, adding she eventually forgave Mengele as well. “I was no longer a victim of Auschwitz, nor was I a prisoner of my tragic past.”
Forgiveness was one of the life lessons Kor offered to the students. Another was to never give up.
“Never, ever give up on yourself and your dreams because if you give up, nothing will happen,” she said, adding that growing up is hard, even for children in the United States with loving parents, who wonder how they will fit into the world. “If you keep working at it, your wonderful minds will come up with an answer.”
She also broached prejudice, the driving force behind the Holocaust, and her own biases against how young people dress these days. She noted girls in low-cut shirts, and other style choices.
“You all want to be sexy, right? You’ve got time to be sexy,” she said, before going on to mock piercings and tattoos, and drawing laughter and applause for her least favorite of them all, “the unbelievably ugly baggy pants.”
Kor and her sister lived with an aunt in Romania after the Holocaust. The two went on to live in Israel, and Kor eventually settled in Terre Haute, where she founded the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in 1995. An arsonist destroyed the museum in 2003, and it re-opened two years later.
Her story inspired June Brault, 14, an eighth grader at Immanuel Lutheran School, who was particularly moved by Kor’s message of forgiveness.
“You can really put it into life today,” she said.
For Kor, that forgiveness helps bring peace to the world.
“I need all of you to help me sow seeds of peace,” she said.