26 January 2009

Forgiving Mengele

In 2005 Der Spiegel ran an article by Roman Heflik on Eva Kor. As Eva Mozes she and her twin sister Miriam survived experimentation by Joseph mengele. They were in a small minority of the twins that fell into the hands of the Angel of Death. But despite almost being murdered, Eva forgave the Nazis.
Eva and Miriam Mozes

It was the spring of 1944 when 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.

Fast forward more than 60 years, and the young girl Eva is now an old woman of 71. On her left forearm, her tattoo from Auschwitz is still easily visible: A-7063. Yet while the fact that Eva is still alive may be astounding enough. At the time of the article Mme Kor was in Hamburg the invitation of the Körber Foundation for the debut of a documentary film about her life -- that really takes one’s breath away. The film was called “Forgiving Dr. Mengele.” Because that is exactly what Eva Mozes Kor did.

Her story, though, came close to ending prematurely. After being selected from among the new arrivals, the sisters were brought to 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.

Eva Kor in Auschwitz (front right)

And it was exactly this that he intended to do with them 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.’”

On Jan. 27, 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated the survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau and brought their nightmare to an end. Not too much later, the Kor twins emigrated to Israel. Eva then moved on to the United States, started her own family and became a real estate broker. But the suffering stayed with them. Miriam, too, had apparently received an injection from Mengele, but nobody could figure out what she was suffering from. Her kidneys, though, were failing. Once again, Eva did what she could to save her sister’s life and donated one of her own kidneys. But the disease could not be stopped and, in 1993, Miriam died in Israel.

Since then, however, Eva’s story has become one of forgiveness and personal healing. It is about a woman who made peace with those who exterminated her family and who tried to exterminate her. Kor’s path to peace began with a trip to Germany. Only a few weeks after the death of her sister, Eva flew to Germany to meet with a German doctor. Hans Münch was his name, and he 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.

Eva Kor today

But the resolute Auschwitz survivor went even further than that. When, in January 1995, the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was celebrated, Kor brought Münch along. On the snow-covered site of the former extermination camp, she read a confession of guilt from Münch to the gathered press. She saw it as an important statement from an eye-witness that could be used to contradict those who would deny the Holocaust. But then, she said, “In my own name, I forgive all Nazis.”

The other former concentration camp prisoners were horrified. “We have no right to forgive the perpetrators in the names of the victims,” was the formulation often used. Kor’s private amnesty was shocking, said one woman who had also been a victim of Mengele’s experiments on twins. And ever since Kor’s personal clemency, a number of Auschwitz survivors have done their best to avoid her. The pain and anger is just too deep. Can one really forgive pure evil? By doing so, does one not exonerate the murderers and torturers who ran the camps?

She is certain that she did the right thing. “I felt as though an incredibly heavy weight of suffering had been lifted,” she says. “I never thought I could be so strong.” She says that because she was able to forgive her worst enemies, she was finally able to free herself from her victim status. But, she is quick to add, forgiveness does not mean forgetting. “What the victims do does not change what happened,” she says. But every victim has the right to heal themselves as well as they can. “And the best thing about the remedy of forgiveness,” she says, “is that there are no side effects. And everybody can afford it.”

In 1984 Kor founded CANDLES (An acronym for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experi¬ments Survivors). She and her Miriam located 122 individual survivors of Dr. Mengele's experiments, living in ten countries, and four continents. In 1995 she founded the CANDLES Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana. The original museum was destroyed in an arson attack in 2003. White supremacist vermin were suspected.

Eva Kor will celebrate her 75th Birthday on Friday 31 January. She is a remarkable woman who found the strength to forgive despite what she endured in Auschwitz. I sincerely doubt that I could have found the same strength


SnoopyTheGoon said...

"I sincerely doubt that I could have found the same strength".

Me too. I prefer that good old formula "It's for God to forgive - and for us to deliver you to him." Works anytime.

billie said...

people misunderstand what forgiveness is- it's for the victim. eva said that it felt like a weight had been lifted-- for her. forgiveness isn't letting the perpetrators off the hook or forgetting what they have done- it is letting go of the hatred and poisonous feelings and emotions that only harm us.

and even so- i don't know that i would have the strength to do that. she is a courageous woman indeed.

Wolfie said...

Forgiveness is an intensely personal thing and cannot be given on anyone's behalf, contrary to the machinations of many politicians.

My Father was a WW2 veteran and he forgave the Nazis because he got to see the price the German people paid for following Hitler. He saw the bodies of 16 year-old boys sent to the front-line to be mashed by allied bombardment, the corpses of German POWS who died of Typhus and starvation piled as high as huts and heard gruesome stories of what the Red Army did to German civilians. He forgave, said they paid enough for following the wrong fool.

Whatever these elderly people went through they still managed to have a life after the war.

Many did not.

Agnes said...

She had that right, yes. But it would be utter perversion, to forgive in the name of the victims. I guess too much forgiveness going around.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I know I couldn't but I do admire her.

jams o donnell said...

Thanks for all of your comments. I don't think Eva was forgiving on behalf of anyone but herself. That in itself must (as it sounded) been a huge release for her. I would not criticie anyone who couldn't forgive - I doubt I could at all

CherryPie said...

What a remarkable woman. I believe she did the right thing it allowed her to live and move on.

jams o donnell said...

Wolfoe, my father is a WWII vet too - he was a Pathfinder but he never bore any malice towards the Germans. For him it was what he did. Then again, coming from a neutral state his family and firends did not suffer at the hands of the Reich

fjb said...

"I guess too much forgiveness going around."

I'm beg to differ. There isn't enough. As the child of a survivor, I can tell you right now that betmo is absolutely right: Forgiveness is for the victim. It does not mean we ever forget.

Lack of forgiveness and hanging on to the pain and trauma is the core of the distrust, paranoia, hate and fear that is so pervasive in the Jewish consciousness, particularly those survivors who ended up in Israel.

I too was raised with the Spartan Jew war cry of "Never Again!". Sadly, for us that only applies to us. I finally completely forgave in 1995, my mother never has and unfortunately, never will. I see the human atrocities inflicted upon the Palestinian people for the last 60 years, and more recently the horror in Gaza; my mother sees only Israeli self-defense and glorious victory. She still tells me not to ever trust an Arab or a German. This is the reality of never forgiving.

Kay Dennison said...

I would rather forgive those who hurt me than let bitterness and hatred consume me. I've seen what the latter has done to people and I've chosen the former. Perhaps that's what Eva has done.

Thanks for sharing this with us, Jams.

jams o donnell said...

Thanks fj. Glad you liked it Kay

Sean Jeating said...

Yes. What a decison!
Given that 'love means forgiveness: I could certainly not love individuals like Mengele.
Thus, lots to deeply ponder about, last not least fjb's words.
The peace of the night.

jams o donnell said...

A lot to ponder Sean. I am grateful to everyone who has commented

James Higham said...

I have a family photo with Mengele and it's so hard to see them as monsters.

Pamela said...

this story really touched my heart.
I don't know if I could forgive. Forgiveness is just a Godly thing -- who can rise to it?

jams o donnell said...

Family James?

It is certainly something that would be hard to attain. No doubt about that Pamela

Anonymous said...

Didn't a famous bishop say recently historical evidence didn't show that 6 million Jews were gassed by the Nazis?

jams o donnell said...

It was a "traditional" bishop that returned to the church. He is utterly wrong.

Frank Partisan said...

Redwine: Where have you been? I miss you.

That was an incredible post. Combined with Betmo's comment, it is really moving.

I think you would like two movies that are out now, The Reader and The Defiance.

jmb said...

A very remarkable woman indeed. How sad that she is shunned by other survivors. While maybe they could not do what she did, they should not condemn her for it.

Claude said...

Sent here by Omnium. Eva Kor is an extraordinary, shiny lady. Hard to believe that those terrible experiments were carried on. I'm grateful that it's documented by the survivors. Some comments have much depth. Thank you for giving us a beautiful forgiveness story. Not sure I could have walked in her steps. But it's uplifting to know she exists. A triumph of the human spirit.

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating tale -- and what a remarkable woman.


jams o donnell said...

THanks Ren. Glad you liked it. I am particularly looking forward to seeing the Reader. Schlink's novel was excellent

I agree jmb. A remarkable woman

Claudia, Bobble I am glad you found her as remarkable as I did

CMD said...

I WAS THERE! at eva's 75th birthday celebration...after checking out eva's film at the local library, i was shocked to find out that she lived just an hour's drive from my hometown...we had a blast! and eva is a sweetheart extraordinaire!!!

thanks for sharing her story here on your blog...i have links to eva's museum from my blog, too, at Never Again!

jams o donnell said...

Wow Chris that must have been a wonderful meeting.

Thanks for the link to Never Again

CMD said...

no problem! i actually reviewed eva's book echoes from auschwitz on my blog this week...keeping the flame of truth alight for future generations, so they can join our refrain, "Never Again!"

jams o donnell said...

Ah Thanks again for the link to you review. I will see if I can get hold of the book here in England