TERRE HAUTE, Indiana — Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor, who championed forgiveness even for those who carried out the Holocaust atrocities, has died at the age of 85.
Kor was in Krakow, Poland, for an annual educational trip with the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, that she founded and died in the morning in her hotel room. While her health had recently improved, Kor had a tough year medically with a heart surgery and respiratory issues, said her son Alex Kor, who was with her when she died.
“My mom would be mad at me for crying,” he said in a phone interview from Poland. “She would also tell other people not to cry to try and follow in her footsteps to try to make all wrongs right and make the world a better place. That’s her legacy. That’s her gift.”
Kor was a Jewish native of Romania who was sent in 1944 to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where most of her family was killed. She and her twin sister survived, but were subjected to inhumane medical experiments.
Kor was a longtime resident of Terre Haute, Indiana. In 1985, she founded CANDLES, or Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors.
Museum officials said the center will be closed until Tuesday in honor of Kor’s memory. A public memorial service will be held.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said the “world lost a giant.”
“Everywhere she went, Eva brought light into darkness and provided comfort to those in pain unlike anyone we’ve ever met,” he said in a statement.
Kor, who has lectured on her Holocaust experiences throughout the world since 1978, was heralded by many as a visionary peacemaker. Concurrently, in another vocal, mostly Jewish crowd, she was at times scathingly condemned as a scandalous traitor to her people because of her message of forgiveness.
During a 2016 interview with The Times of Israel, Kor said she believed her message has been deeply misunderstood by other survivors. Whereas “forgiving and forgetting” are commonly paired, in establishing a Holocaust museum she felt she had firmly separated the two.
“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,” Kor said at the time.
Kor 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, Kor told The Times of Israel, is her “ultimate revenge” against the Nazis.
In 2013, Kor was approached by Rainer Höss, the grandson of Rudolf Höss, who commanded the Nazi death camp 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 headlines worldwide again in 2015 when pictures of an embrace shared with a Nazi war criminal, 94-year-old Nazi Oskar Groening, during his trial went viral on the internet.
One of approximately 1,500 pairs of twins singled out by the Angel of Death, Josef Mengele, at 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, then Israeli army officer Eva met and married fellow Holocaust survivor Michael Kor. They settled in rural Terre Haute, Indiana, where his American GI liberator was based.
In 1985, in an effort to locate other surviving Mengele twins, Eva and her sister Miriam Mozes Zieger founded the CANDLES organization. Some 200 individual twins had survived Mengele’s experiments and in 1985, 122 of them reunited at Auschwitz, 40 years after their liberation.
Miriam, whose kidneys never recovered from her months under Mengele, died in 1993 after succumbing to cancerous polyps.
The CANDLES museum was founded in 1995, two years after Miriam’s death.