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Ex-Auschwitz guard initiated embrace at trial, survivor says

Eva Kor: ‘I probably wouldn’t have gone that far, but I guess it is better than what he would have done to me 70 years ago’

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

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. (Photo credit: screenshot/Daily Mail)

The Holocaust survivor who embraced a former Auschwitz guard at his trial last week explained that she had sought out Oskar Groening to appeal to him — and other living Nazis — to publicly denounce neo-Nazi activity, when the former SS member abruptly pulled her in for a kiss on the cheek.

Eva Kor, a former Auschwitz inmate and vocal proponent of forgiving the Nazis, defended the gesture in a blog post Friday, writing that if she “had it [her] way, the dialogue between the survivors and perpetrators would have started a long time ago.”

In her account, Kor wrote that she had walked over to the defendant — who is standing trial for 300,000 counts of accessory to murder — and said the “young misguided Germans who want Hitler and fascism to come back — they will not listen to Eva Kor or any other survivor. You can tell them you were in Auschwitz, you were involved with the Nazi party, and it was a terrible thing.”

“As I was talking to him, he grabbed me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Well I probably wouldn’t have gone that far, but I guess it is better than what he would have done to me 70 years ago,” she wrote.

In their first encounter, on day one of the trial, Groening had fainted, she wrote.

Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor sits in a court room in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. (Photo credit: Julian Stratenschulte/Pool Photo via AP)
Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor sits in a court room in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. (Photo credit: Julian Stratenschulte/Pool Photo via AP)

“He was holding onto my arm so he did not hit the floor. At that moment he was not a Nazi but an old man who fainted and I was trying to save him from falling. I screamed, ‘He is falling and I can’t hold onto him — he is a big old guy!’ This was not the interaction I was hoping for. I knocked out an old Nazi,” Kor wrote.

That initial interaction, which “did not go so well,” prompted her to approach Groening again, she wrote.

Kor, who is testifying against Groening in the landmark trial, insisted that her forgiveness does not absolve him from his crimes.

“Everything he is accused of — I am saying he did all that. I have forgiven the Nazis and everyone who has hurt me, but I told him that my forgiveness did not prevent me from accusing him nor from him taking responsibility for his actions,” she wrote.

“I know many people will criticize me for this photo, but so be it. It was two human beings seventy years after it happened. For the life of me I will never understand why anger is preferable to a goodwill gesture. Nothing good ever comes from anger. Any goodwill gesture in my book will win over anger any time. The energy that anger creates is a violent energy,” she wrote.

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)

Kor maintained that she doesn’t believe “we should raise a statue in his honor,” but said that the Nazi war criminal could nonetheless “serve as a good example to young people that what he participated in was terrible, that it was wrong, and that he is sorry that he was part of it.”

“Now there is a message that has some usefulness for society,” she added. “If I had it my way, the dialogue between the survivors and perpetrators would have started a long time ago. And it would have helped the survivors cope and maybe heal themselves, but even more so not to pass the pain on to their children.”

Kor was the subject of a 2006 documentary, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele” about her harrowing experiences in the death camp, and the experimentation she was subjected to along with her twin sister, Miriam, under Dr. Josef Mengele. Kor and her sister survived Auschwitz; her parents and two sisters perished in the gas chambers.

In 1995, in move that stoked controversy, Kor met with the SS physician Hans Münch at Auschwitz, where the Nazi doctor testified to the existence of the gas chambers, and Kor provided a document pardoning all those employed at the death camp for the crimes against her.

“Mr. Groening, did you know Dr. Münch? He was very helpful and answered all my questions, including how the Auschwitz gas chambers operated,” Kor wrote in a statement on April 22. “I asked him to accompany me to Auschwitz on January 27, 1995, for the 50th anniversary of the liberation and to sign a statement at the ruins of the gas chambers to testify to their existence.

Oskar Groening at the first day of his trial in Luneberg, Germany, to face charges of being an accomplice to the murder of 300,000 at Auschwitz, April 21, 2015 (Photo credit JTA/Andreas Tamme/Getty Images)
Oskar Groening at the first day of his trial in Luneberg, Germany, to face charges of being an accomplice to the murder of 300,000 at Auschwitz, April 21, 2015 (Photo credit JTA/Andreas Tamme/Getty Images)

“When he agreed, I wanted to thank him, but I didn’t know how to thank an Auschwitz Nazi doctor. I thought about it for ten months, and one day the idea of a letter of forgiveness from me to Dr. Münch came to my mind. I knew he would like it, and for me it was a life-changing experience. I realized I had power over my life. I had the power to heal the pain imposed on me in Auschwitz by forgiving the people who imposed that pain.”

“My forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrators,” she continued. “It is an act of self-healing, self-liberation, and self-empowerment. It’s free, everybody can afford it, it has no side effects and it works. I highly recommend that everyone try it.”

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