Holocaust survivor preaches forgiveness of Nazis as ‘ultimate revenge’
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InterviewThe healing power of forgiveness, says Kor, is the one true path to shedding victimization

Holocaust survivor preaches forgiveness of Nazis as ‘ultimate revenge’

Reviled by many, Mengele twin Eva Mozes Kor is steadfast in her belief that there is no criminal who cannot be forgiven, even those who murdered her family

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World editor.

Former inmate and Mengele twin, Eva Mozes Kor walks the grounds at Auschwitz in 2007, on one of her many trips there as a lecturer. (courtesy)
Former inmate and Mengele twin, Eva Mozes Kor walks the grounds at Auschwitz in 2007, on one of her many trips there as a lecturer. (courtesy)

TERRE HAUTE, Indiana — On an early November day, a parcel of pickup trucks cruise Terre Haute streets, flying large Trump campaign flags in their wake. In this Indiana college town, lined with cookie-cutter fast food outlets and a token Indian buffet, South Third Street looks like any other. Except here, between car mechanics and nail shops, stands an incongruous mom-and-pop Holocaust museum.

With its small stature, the unimposing gray CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center building is a modest monument. It memorializes the 1,500 pairs of twins used by Angel of Death Josef Mengele at Auschwitz and the story of its petite founder, Holocaust survivor and Mengele twin, Eva Mozes Kor.

In 2003, the CANDLES museum was razed in a firebomb attack. It rose again two years later, but the attacks against Kor herself have not ceased. Today, the museum and its robust online presence are the launchpads for Kor’s parallel messages of survival and — controversially — forgiveness.

The feisty octogenarian, who has lectured on her Holocaust experiences throughout the world since 1978, is heralded by many as a visionary peacemaker. Concurrently, in another vocal, mostly Jewish crowd, she is at times scathingly condemned as a scandalous traitor to her people.

The remnants of the original CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, after the firebombing on November 18, 2003. (courtesy)
The remnants of the original CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, after the firebombing on November 18, 2003. (courtesy)

There are other Holocaust survivors who speak against hatred — though not forgiveness — such as Judith Altmann, who was born in Jasina, Czechoslovakia, and whose family was murdered by the Nazis. “I certainly have all the reasons in the world to hate, but hate destroys you, not them. Use your energy for good things and for better things,” Altmann has said.

Ahead of testifying at a Nazi war crimes trial, British Holocaust survivor Susan Pollock, also said she doesn’t necessarily hate all Nazis. Pollack, who was appointed Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her work in Holocaust education, said of Oskar Groening, known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz,” “I don’t hate him, but I don’t have it in my heart to forgive. That is not my role.”

Pollock told the Jewish News, “How could you not think of what he’s on trial for and what your family felt? I really can’t understand it. I’m not saying forgiveness doesn’t have a place elsewhere, but not in the Holocaust.”

Nobel Peace prize winner and writer Elie Wiesel stands in front of a photo of himself (bottom 3rd from R) and other inmates, taken at the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, during his visit to the Holocaust Memorial Center Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, December 8, 1986. (AFP/ SVEN NACKSTRAND)
Nobel Peace prize winner and writer Elie Wiesel stands in front of a photo of himself (bottom 3rd from R) and other inmates, taken at the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, during his visit to the Holocaust Memorial Center Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, December 8, 1986. (AFP/ SVEN NACKSTRAND)

Even foremost Holocaust survivor and thinker Elie Wiesel, who in 2000 pushed Germany to ask forgiveness of the Jewish people, rejected a mass Jewish forgiveness of the Nazis. In a 2006 interview, Wiesel said, “I am asked occasionally, do you forgive? Who am I to forgive? I am not God. I don’t believe in collective guilt… No, I cannot forgive.”

Kor stands alone.

For Kor’s part, she believes her message has been deeply misunderstood by other survivors. Whereas “forgiving and forgetting” are commonly paired, in establishing a Holocaust museum she feels she has firmly separated the two.

Holocaust survivor and Mengele twin Eva Mozes Kor in her Terre Haute, Indiana, CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center on November 7, 2016. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)
Holocaust survivor and Mengele twin Eva Mozes Kor in her Terre Haute, Indiana, CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center on November 7, 2016. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

“That is a slogan that has no merit in its facts, because how on earth could anybody forget their whole family was murdered. That’s stupid. People remember, but the way you remember and why you remember should be different,” said Kor, rolling her r’s with a rich Hungarian accent despite her 60 years as an American.

“Not because you want to get even with them, you remember because this is part of your life, and you are, each person is, a product of their past. So how can I forget my past?” asked Kor.

The crux of the controversy is a well-publicized 1995 proclamation declaring her across-the-board forgiveness of the Nazis. For this she is reviled by many, if not most, of her fellow Holocaust survivors and their offspring. She said she is derided for what they label a cheap publicity stunt and horrific overstepping of boundaries.

For her part, she too is no placid Buddha: In our conversation, she railed against the rabbinic establishment for its inability to adopt her perspective to heal the Jewish peoplehood, and cited the German courts’ “stupidity.”

For over 20 years, Kor has stood up to the wrath of her peers and continued to endorse the healing power of forgiveness as the one true path to shedding victimization. Reclaiming her personal power, said Kor, is her “ultimate revenge” against the Nazis.

A treacherous path toward enlightenment

With just two exhibit halls, Indiana’s only Holocaust museum is closed on Mondays, when The Times of Israel visited. Before a snappily dressed Kor, 82, pulled up fashionably late in a snazzy red sedan, its young, social media-savvy executive director Kiel Majewski gave a private tour.

In the main permanent exhibit of clever moveable modular walls, one finds the story of the Nazi-perpetuated Jewish genocide told from Kor’s changing perspective — as a child in idyllic rural Transylvania, as a six-year-old after the Nazi invasion, and then later as a 10-year-old, taken with her family to the Şimleu Silvaniei ghetto. A pot set on a few bricks illustrates how the family cooked beans for the few weeks they lived in the ghetto. Eventually they were transported and irrevocably parted at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

The CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, founded by Mengele twin Eva Mozes Kor. (courtesy)
The CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, founded by Mengele twin Eva Mozes Kor. (courtesy)

One of approximately 1,500 pairs of twins singled out by the Angel of Death, Josef Mengele, at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, Eva and her identical twin sister Miriam survived eight months of experiments performed at hands of their Nazi “doctors.”

Through a combination of luck and sheer will, they survived and, as documented by their Soviet liberators, led the famous procession of children in a freedom march out of the camp on January 27, 1945.

The twins eventually made their way to Israel, where Miriam settled and raised a family. But in 1960, Israeli army officer Eva met and married fellow Holocaust survivor Michael Kor. They settled in rural Terre Haute, where his American GI liberator was based — a far cry from cosmopolitan Tel Aviv where Eva had been living.

In 1993, the twins were separated by more than distance when Miriam, whose kidneys never recovered from her months under Mengele, succumbed to cancerous polyps. Decimated by Miriam’s death, Eva vowed to investigate even further what experimentation had been done on the twins.

Mengele twin Eva Mozes Kor points herself out in an image in the Auschwitz Memorial Museum during a 2007 trip. (courtesy)
Mengele twin Eva Mozes Kor points herself out in an image in the Auschwitz Memorial Museum during a 2007 trip. (courtesy)

In1984, in an effort to locate other surviving Mengele twins, Eva and her sister Miriam Mozes Zieger founded an organization they called CANDLES, an acronym for “Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors.” Some 200 individual twins had survived Mengele’s experiments and in 1985, and 122 of them reunited at Auschwitz, 40 years after their liberation. The museum was founded in 1995, two years after Miriam’s death.

Also in 1995, Kor made what she describes as a “gutsy” attempt to garner ammunition against Holocaust deniers and revisionists, by engineering a first-hand account of Auschwitz’s atrocities by a Nazi doctor. With a film crew from a nearby university, during the observance of 50 years to the camp’s liberation she met Dr. Hans Munch at the remains of the Auschwitz showers where he signed his chilling observations of a systematic, procedural mass murder.

A one-on-one meeting between a Holocaust survivor and a Nazi is enough fodder for international headlines, but Kor’s notoriety stems from a passionate reading of a blanket letter of forgiveness she composed as “a gift” in honor of Munch’s testimony.

‘What I discovered for myself was life-changing. I discovered that I had the power to forgive’

“I knew right away that he would find it an important and meaningful gift.
But what I discovered for myself was life-changing. I discovered that I had the power to forgive. That no one could give me that power, and no one could take it away,” said Kor.

Almost two decades later, in 2013, Kor, now the poster child for Jewish forgiveness of Nazis, was approached by Rainer Höss. Rainer is the grandson of Rudolf Höss, who commanded Auschwitz for much of the war and who began the use of pesticide Zyklon B to kill prisoners in the camp’s gas chambers. Today an advocate against the rise of neo-Nazism in Europe, Rainer had by then repudiated his family and its Nazi past. He asked Kor to be his adoptive grandmother, and after meeting him, she consented.

She made global news reports again last year when pictures of an embrace shared with a Nazi war criminal went viral on the internet. In April 2015, after pleading for a punishment of community service during the war crimes trial of the confessed 94-year-old Nazi Oskar Groening, Kor went up to Groening to acknowledge his testimony.

Rainer Höss with Eva Mozes Kor (Photo credit: YouTube screen capture)
Rainer Höss with Eva Mozes Kor (Photo credit: YouTube screen capture)

“You never know how you would react when you meet an adversary. There is something happening between two human beings that is difficult for science to understand,” Kor told The Times of Israel.

At her empty Holocaust museum in early November, for almost two hours, Kor described her life story — and raged at an intransigent Jewish community for not accepting what she sees as divinely inspired insight.

Following are excerpts from our interview, edited for length and clarity.

The Jewish leadership is failing its people

I am angry with the rabbis and the religious leaders, because in many synagogues, what the rabbis say is the word of God. They say to remember Amalek [descendants of biblical Esau who represent all enemies of Jews]. Well, I’m tired of remembering Amalek and it doesn’t help survivors and other members of their congregations who are suffering and holding on to pain and anger.

When I talk with other survivors they are very angry with me. [At a recent Yom Kippur event outside of Chicago, an 85-year-old Auschwitz survivor demanded equal time on stage.] I felt sorry for her, she was so angry with me, as was her daughter, her grown daughter and grandchildren. The whole mishpucha was so angry with me.

I asked them, “Why are you angry with me?” They said, “Because you are talking in our name.” I am not talking in their name! I am talking only in the name of Eva Kor! To see these 85-, 95-year-old people being so angry with me because I forgave.

Do you feel that there are unforgivable acts?
No, absolutely not. God never taught that to anybody that this can be forgiven and this cannot. This is the people’s interpretation. And why should there be something that is the most painful, so horrendous that couldn’t be forgiven. Isn’t that stupid? Little crimes can be [forgiven], because you can somehow cope with it. But the big crimes, no.

Who on earth? Did anybody talk to God?

Miriam (left) and Eva Mozes as school girls in Romania in 1949. (courtesy)
Miriam (left) and Eva Mozes as schoolgirls in Romania in 1949. (courtesy)

But you respect that other people have other thoughts on the matter of forgiveness?
I respect, yes, but like, no. What really bothers me is that I believe that the Jewish religion is very reasonable and caring, and really wants to improve the lives of the people. The Jewish religion has evolved, it has changed since the days of Moses, so wouldn’t it be nice to have a congress for the Jewish religion observed by the World Jewish Congress, somebody, or rabbis in Israel, and discuss the concept of forgiveness?

‘If the Jewish people will see merit in the idea of forgiveness, even forgiving the Nazis, the world will learn something very important’

Because if it could help so many people, couldn’t that be the greatest legacy of the Holocaust and a lesson to the world? If the Jewish people will see merit in the idea of forgiveness, even forgiving the Nazis, the world will learn something very important.

Can you go back to when you realized there was a need for forgiveness?
No, no, no, there was never such a thing. People think that it was a process. In my case, I stumbled upon the idea. If you would have asked me 23 years ago today if I was going to forgive the Nazis I would have told you to find yourself a really good psychiatrist and have your head examined because you are crazy, lady.

I don’t think that I personally really believe it, but I do not understand how I stumbled upon it because I think all that happened with that forgiveness, I was not directing it, I was somehow led. It would be presumptuous on my part to think that God chose me to be the messenger of forgiveness and peace, but I don’t know really.

‘It would be presumptuous on my part to think that God chose me to be the messenger of forgiveness and peace, but I don’t know really’

I don’t think I’m that important that I would be chosen. I know I have so many discussions with God, like I said to God yesterday, I know I am suffering so much with this thing that I have now [she has an injury and infection on her leg from a recent fall], why do you keep testing me? I’ve been tested so much. I’ve passed lots of your tests, so please don’t test me anymore, I would like to just have a peaceful life.

On the hunt for a Nazi doctor

We never [Miriam and I] talked about Auschwitz until 1985. Even the word Auschwitz never came into our conversation. I tried to talk to her in 1979, because I watched the Holocaust show on NBC and I began dealing with my own life story and I wanted to start comparing it to Miriam. She was not ready yet.In 1993 my twin sister Miriam died. She died, and that’s a long story in itself… [A perfect match, Eva donated Miriam a kidney in 1987, but on June 6, 1993, Miriam died of cancerous growths due to complications with the immunosuppressors.]

Mengele twins Eva (left) and Miriam Mozes, during their Israeli army service, circa 1953. (courtesy)
Mengele twins Eva (left) and Miriam Mozes, during their Israeli army service, circa 1953. (courtesy)

I went to Israel for our birthday [in 1993], because I worried this would be the last birthday we would celebrate together. And that was the case. She died on me. I wasn’t quite ready for it. [Her voice cracks.]

I remember getting the message, and I called Israel. Talked to my brother-in-law and said I’ll take the first flight. I have never buried any member of my family, and I wanted to say goodbye to her. And also, say goodbye to my kidney she was taking with her. But my brother-in-law said, we can’t wait for you. [Miriam’s oldest daughter is religious and the custom is to bury the dead as quickly as possible.]

I was left with a lot of pain. I woke up many nights, suffocating. Because I believe that twins can feel what the other twin feels.

I knew eventually I would do something in her memory because this is my way of coping with pain. Two years later I opened this museum and my nightmares disappeared.

Do you forgive your niece?
Oh sure. I forgive her, but it’s sad. If she would have been in the United States, she would have found a way for them to wait a day for her to get there. All I was asking was for a day.

‘I believe that twins can feel what the other twin feels’

A month after her death, unrelated to her death, I received a phone call from a doctor at Boston College who wanted me to talk about how does it feel to be a survivor, and how does it feel to be a victim of Nazi medical experiments.

And he said, “When you come to Boston it would be really nice if you would bring a Nazi doctor.” And I was a little bit stunned at such a request, and I a little bit joked and I said, “Well, where do you think I could find one of those guys? They are not advertising in the Yellow Pages.”

The next day I remembered that Miriam and I finished a documentary together about the Mengele twins done by CDF, a German television network. And when I got a copy of the film, there was a German Nazi doctor [Dr. Hans Munch] from Auschwitz. I figured if he was still alive in 1992, he might be still alive in 1993… Even today I am amazed that he was willing to meet with me.

The railway track leading to the infamous ‘Death Gate’ at the Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp on November 13, 2014, in Oswiecim, Poland. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
The railway track leading to the infamous ‘Death Gate’ at the Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp on November 13, 2014, in Oswiecim, Poland. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

I was very nervous; what I remembered about the Nazi doctors was nothing that I ever wanted to cope with again. But I was curious, maybe he knew something about our experiment? And even today, I will go halfway around the world, because I believe I have the right to know what was injected into our bodies.

And I wondered also, why was this Nazi doctor willing to talk to me? And I still do not understand it really.

What did he do after the war?
Well, after the war he was put on trial three times. And was found innocent every time. I do not think he was innocent, but I do think he was a very good human being…

He arrived in Auschwitz without knowing anything about Auschwitz. We all think that the Nazis knew everybody, knew what was going on. Only he, he was a bacteriologist, he could not practice in Germany under Hitler unless he joined the Nazi party. The minute he joined the Nazi party, within a week or two they said we are sending you to Poland, to a place near Krakow.

Well, he researched Krakow, as much as he could find, and in the books, it was a nice cultural center in Poland. He took his wife with him. And after one day in Auschwitz he packed her up and said this was no place for a human being.

Auschwitz's Block 10, where medical experiments were conducted on the camp's inmates. (CC BY-SA, VbCrLf, Wikimedia Commons)
Auschwitz’s Block 10, where medical experiments were conducted on the camp’s inmates. (CC BY-SA, VbCrLf, Wikimedia Commons)

He was taken in to meet a group of inmates that he was going to do some experiments on them. His supervisor left and he went up to every single one of them, shook their hands and introduced himself. His supervisor came back and said, “What on earth are you doing?! You are the superior German Aryan race. You are not to touch them.”

‘Word got out among the inmates that this was a ‘different Nazi’

But the word got out among the inmates that this was a “different Nazi.” Two weeks later, three inmate doctors went up to him and said you have to help us… He was manipulating the system for these inmates. Thirty of them survived and they always testified on his behalf. I didn’t know any of that when I met him. I was nervous, very nervous, but he treated me with kindness.

We finished the interview and I asked him about what he did in Auschwitz. “Dr. Munch, you were in Auschwitz, do you know anything about the gas chambers, did you ever go inside?”

He said, this is a nightmare that he lived every single day of his life. What he was doing, the only thing I knew about him, is that he refused to do selections, and he went to the highest hierarchy in the Nazi regime. He was the only doctor who refused to do selections and he was permitted to do it. “I never wanted to be God. I never wanted to decide who will live and who will die.”

A May 1944 'selection' of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Birkenau, where one-million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust (Wikimedia Commons)
A May 1944 ‘selection’ of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Birkenau, where one-million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust (Wikimedia Commons)

But, when I asked him, he said he was stationed at the gas chamber. And he said, people would be told they were going to be taking a shower. The shower room itself was polished and clean, and they would even spread perfume to camouflage the smell. People would go in thinking they were taking a shower. Once the shower room was packed, the doors would close hermetically, Dr. Munch was outside looking through a peephole. The gas did not go through the shower heads… Zyklon B, hit the floor, made gas like dry ice.

People would climb on top of each other in their last efforts to breathe. When the people on the top of the pile would stop moving, he knew everybody was dead, and he would sign one death certificate. I still would like to find those death certificates.

I told him this was very important information and that I was going to Auschwitz in 1995 to celebrate 50 years since the liberation of the camp. I wanted him to come with me, and I wanted him to sign a document at the ruins of the gas chamber — just what he told me. So if I ever met revisionists who say that the Holocaust didn’t happen, or that there were no gas chambers, people were not killed, I could take that and shove it in their faces.

One of only two photos in existence showing Jews entering gas chamber facilities in a Nazi death camp. Outside the Crematoria V complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau, women enter the killing facility under the guise of taking showers. (Public domain)
One of only two photos in existence showing Jews entering gas chamber facilities in a Nazi death camp. Outside the Crematoria V complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau, women enter the killing facility under the guise of taking showers. (Public domain)

How do you thank a Nazi?

I don’t understand it, not even today, I wanted to thank this Nazi for his willingness to go to Auschwitz and document this operation of the gas chamber. I knew it was crazy. I didn’t dare tell my family or friends because I knew they would try to convince me not to do it. I was almost compelled to find my own way through that.

For the next 10 months, I kept asking myself, brainstorming by myself. After 10 months, a simple idea, how about a letter of forgiveness from me to Dr. Munch.

I knew right away that he would find it an important and meaningful gift. But what I discovered for myself was life-changing. I discovered that I had the power to forgive. That no one could give me that power, and no one could take it away.

WWII war criminal Josef Mengele, seen here in a photo from 1956. (AP)
WWII war criminal Josef Mengele, seen here in a photo from 1956. (AP)

Let’s understand: No victim ever volunteers to be a victim. All victims feel hurt. They feel tremendous hopelessness and powerlessness. And the feeling of being so powerless in your life is devastating. Here I discovered I had the power to forgive. Something I never ever thought about.

So I began writing my letter. I did not know how to write a letter of forgiveness to a Nazi. I took me four months before I worked through all my pain. [Kor, who graduated from Indiana State University in 1990 after going to night school for 11 years, decided to show her former English professor the letter.] The third time we met she said to me, “Now Eva, it’s very nice that you forgive that Dr. Munch. But your problem is not with Dr. Munch. Your problem is with Mengele.”

It became obvious I wasn’t ready to forgive Mengele.

So she said, “I am asking for a favor, when you go home tonight, pretend that you’re talking to a make-believe Mengele, and you’re telling him that you forgive him. Because what I want you to find out for yourself is how would it make you feel.”

‘I had the power even over the Angel of Death, and there was nothing that he could do to change it’

And it sounded like an interesting idea. I went home, I closed the bedroom door. I picked up a dictionary and made a list of a lot of nasty words. I read them out clear and loud, with that make-believe Mengele standing in the bedroom. It was an interesting surreal experience, really.

And then I said, “In spite of all that, I forgive you.” And the idea that even in that strange reality that I was dealing with — make-believe — that I had the power even over the Angel of Death, and there was nothing that he could do to change it. It made me feel very good.

And if I forgave Mengele, I decided there were a lot of other people. And that’s why I’m saying — all of that didn’t come from my little mind. Somebody was guiding my actions, and I don’t understand it. It is presumptuous on my part to think that [it was] God, but I don’t know who else.

So I decided to forgive everybody who hurt me. And that is the way that I arrived in Auschwitz. I took my children, Alex and Rina, and Dr. Munch came with his daughter, his son, and his granddaughter… [Kor’s husband, also a Holocaust survivor, does not subscribed to her philosophy of forgiveness.]

Mengele twin Eva Mozes Kor at Auschwitz on January 27, 1995, reading her letter of forgiveness to Nazi Dr. Hans Munch. (Youtube screenshot)
Mengele twin Eva Mozes Kor at Auschwitz on January 27, 1995, reading her letter of forgiveness to Nazi Dr. Hans Munch. (Youtube screenshot)

I read [my letter], I signed it, and I immediately felt that all that pain that I had carried around for years was lifted from my shoulders. I was no longer a victim of Auschwitz, nor was I a prisoner of my wretched past. I was free of Auschwitz and I was free of Mengele.

Not one single Jew. Not one single survivor ever thanked me that I went to Auschwitz with Dr. Munch to document the operations of the gas chamber. Yes, it was gutsy of me to take a Nazi doctor there, but I thought it had a lot more meaning to have it signed where it happened.

They immediately accused me of running around with a Nazi in Auschwitz. Nobody ever bothered to really find out the depths of my effort to do that. It wasn’t an easy thing. So they say, “Okay so you forgive. Why don’t you just keep it to yourself, quiet.” But I say, because it was done to publicize the operation of the gas chamber.

Ruins of a gas chamber-crematorium facility at Auschwitz-Birkenau, known as Krematorium II, photographed in November 2015. (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)
Ruins of a gas chamber-crematorium facility at Auschwitz-Birkenau, known as Krematorium II, photographed in November 2015. (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

It’s easy enough to say, ‘forgive.’ But you yourself know that it came from within you.
Yes, that is why it is a lot more meaningful than any church, or any dogma. Or any person say forgive. But you can create the feeling for yourself.

You can? Like a muscle that you flex?
Not like a muscle, no. I will tell you how you create it.

It’s free. I always like the fact that it’s free, it doesn’t cost anybody any money. When I lecture, I sometimes finish my lecture with the statement, “There are people here who feel hurt, something happened to you in the past and you want to heal yourself. First of all you have to ask yourself, am I hurting and do I want to stop hurting. And if the answer is yes, and it is usually yes, what do I do?”

‘I believe with every ounce of my being that forgiveness is a seed for peace’

You take a piece of paper and a pen and you start writing to the person, or the people, who hurt you. It might take you, in my case it took four months to write that letter. It might take you a week, or a month, or however long it takes you. But at the end of the letter, you must say, I forgive you, and mean those words. These are not empty words. And if it works for you, what you will feel almost instantly is a sense of freedom and liberation that you could never imagine. The burden of victimhood that you carried is lifted. You feel almost like reborn. And if it works for you, all I’m asking for that simple message, that you can pass it on to other people.

Because I believe with every ounce of my being that forgiveness is a seed for peace and I need as many people as possible to try it.

Do not ever send your letter to the people who hurt you. That is a toxic relationship.

You gave your letter to the Nazi doctor.
I gave my letter to him. In my case, I wanted to make it a propaganda for the documentation of the gas chamber.

I didn’t know how the world would deal with it, but maybe I am selfish. It made me feel good and I figured that since I wasn’t hurting anybody, how could that be bad. And I still don’t understand why people are so upset with it.

It would be an interesting psychological research: Why are survivors so angry?

This undated photo made available by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, in Oswiecim, Poland, shows the former Auschwitz-Birkenau guard Oskar Groening as a young man in an SS uniform. (Photo credit: Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau via AP)
This undated photo made available by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, in Oswiecim, Poland, shows the former Auschwitz-Birkenau guard Oskar Groening as a young man in an SS uniform. (Photo credit: Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau via AP)

I testified last year in Lueneburg, Germany, against Oskar Groening and we were about 10 survivors there, we had lunch in the church nearby. None of them was willing to talk to me.

I thought it was such an opportunity to dialog about our feelings. They just ignored my existence and I talked to my attorney. No big deal. There is such deep-seated hatred against me for forgiving. Is that because the more the merrier? I don’t know. I would say let’s make victims the less the merrier.

What was your planned testimony at the trial last year? What was your goal in going?
I didn’t want to go. What happened was I received an email from an attorney. I didn’t even want to answer it.

Why were you chosen?
He was looking through the internet for survivors from Auschwitz.

Just blanket?
Just blanket. He didn’t know anything about me, no. And we signed an agreement here, and he agreed that if I felt uncomfortable going ahead with it, that I could sever the contract, tear it up. And then I began thinking, well, I will sit in a German court, surrounded by German judges who are going to treat me with respect. That’s an interesting feeling. I think it’s worthwhile experiencing that.

I was curious about Oskar Groening because what I read about him was that he was in a stamp club and somebody wrote to him in the 1980s that all these stories about the camps are make-believe stories. And he said, “Just a minute. I was there, it was part of my life too.” And his name became known to the German authorities but they couldn’t find a way to bring him to trial.

Well, you know what I think about the German judges today and the authorities, they act like a bravado. [She beats her chest] “Oh, we put those Nazis on trial.” Seventy years later!

Former SS guard Oskar Groening sits behind a fence during a break in the trial against him in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. (Photo credit: Markus Schreiber/AP)
Former SS guard Oskar Groening sits behind a fence during a break in the trial against him in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. (Photo credit: Markus Schreiber/AP)

I was appalled at putting a guy who is 94 years old on trial. He has a walker — he cannot get from the car with the walker — he is very feeble, but his mind is ok. And I appealed to the German court, the superior court, through my attorney — find him guilty, but the punishment should be community service. Because his value is in talking to the neo-Nazis and to the revisionists that that really happened, and it wasn’t that great. Let’s not go back there to that crazy idea, because he of course condemned the Nazi regime.

In spite of that they sentenced him to four years in jail. [His conviction and sentence were upheld on November 28.] He will never see the jail and if so he will die there very fast. So the Germans are still bull-headed idiots in some ways, because my idea had a lot more merit.

‘The Germans are still bull-headed idiots in some ways’

And actually I went up to him the first day in the trial, I wanted to go up to him and just acknowledge that I was there and I knew who he was. And as I approached him, he was sitting on a chair like you are sitting on, and I was coming from this side and he wanted to stand up, turn around, and as he wanted to stand up, his head went down, he grabbed my left arm and I was holding on to this big boned old guy and his head was going to hit the floor!

He was about to faint.
He fainted. I started screaming, “Help! Help! I can’t hold on to him!” So his attorneys immediately realized what had happened and they grabbed his head and took care of him. But I walked away.

We’re in the last session, the trial is finished, the reporters are leaving, there was one reporter and I said to my attorney, I would like a picture with Oskar Groening.

Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor and former SS guard Oskar Groening embrace during the latter's trial on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. (Photo credit: screenshot/Daily Mail)
Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor and former SS guard Oskar Groening embrace during the latter’s trial on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. (Screenshot Daily Mail)

Why?
I found it to be an interesting experience to have a Nazi validate my experiences in the camp. This is the only Nazi who has ever testified. Other Nazis were brought to trial, they took the Fifth, they never did anything. He testified to what he has done! So actually, in a very strange way, to the neo-Nazis and the revisionists, Oskar Groening was validating my story. That’s pretty interesting, really. So I wanted a picture with him.

I am going up to him, he again wants to stand up. And I said, “Please, let’s not go there. We have done that before.” Then he grabs me as I am talking to him, pulls me in, gives me a hug and a kiss on each cheek. That was unexpected. And I didn’t quite — in the first second, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t push him away, and I proceeded in talking to him when he let go of the hug. And I said, “You need to talk to other Nazis you know to testify.” But of course they won’t because they’ll be put in jail!

‘You never know how you would react when you meet an adversary. There is something happening between two human beings that is difficult for science to understand’

But ultimately, you are looking at that hug: Two old people. He was trying to show me that he cares about me, that he loves me. That’s what I’m saying. You never know how you would react when you meet an adversary. There is something happening between two human beings that is difficult for science to understand.

Do you feel that you were used by him in this situation?
No. There was nothing evil or conniving. I don’t think he planned it. And that is what you do not know if you meet with an adversary, how he or you will react to that.

Your story is your story. Your story of forgiveness and you are preaching forgiveness.
I’m not preaching. If that’s called preaching, I’m telling people how it helped me. And if they are hurting they can try it.

Sharing the power of forgiveness. Do you see that happening on national levels? Everything you’ve said has been very personal.
It cannot happen on a national level, because it has to be an individual. I can tell you just yesterday I got a letter from somebody who sent me a letter that I changed their lives. That I get a lot!

That people who have been abused by parents, or neglected, and one day they come across it, and they realize that they have one power left — to heal themselves and go on. And I believe that every human being has a right to be free of it and every human being has a right to be happy.

The Kor family in 2013 (clockwise from bottom left): Mickey Kor, son Alex, daughter Rina and Eva Mozes Kor. (courtesy)
The Kor family in 2013 (clockwise from bottom left): Mickey Kor, son Alex, daughter Rina and Eva Mozes Kor. (courtesy)

Do you think there’s something innate in the Jewish religion that prevents forgiveness?
That is the idea of remembering Amalek, which means get even with your enemies. Getting even has never healed one single person. And now you create another group of victims. Because that becomes a vicious cycle. And that is not serving the victim at all and how on earth does it help the world when you might get even with somebody that might not have done anything to you? So there is no end to it.

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