Local News

Auschwitz survivor: 'I have power to forgive'

Posted October 6, 2009 6:01 p.m. EDT
Updated October 7, 2009 5:18 p.m. EDT

— Eva Mozes Kor was 10 when she and her family were taken from their home in Romania to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, quickly lost their father and two older sisters in the crowd exiting the cattle car at the entrance to the Nazi camp – and they never saw their relatives again. Then, within minutes, the twins saw bodies of dead children in a nearby latrine.

"I made a very solemn and silent pledge that I will do anything within my power to make sure that my twin sister and I will not end up on the filthy latrine floor," Kor said recently during a visit to the Triangle to speak to the area chapter of the Association of Clinical Research Professionals.

Kor is an advocate of research with a person's informed consent. She never had that choice, enduring daily medical experiments in Auschwitz at the hands of Dr. Josef Mengele, a notorious Nazi war criminal who sent thousands of people to their death in the camp's gas chamber.

Some of the experiments were demeaning, and others made Kor very sick. Yet, she refused to give in.

"If a person, even for one day, gave up on yourself, it was very easy to die," she said.

The Soviets liberated the prisoners in Auschwitz a year after the twins arrived. Both survived and went onto have families. Miriam Mozes Zeiger died in 1993.

Kor said that nightmares and anger ate at her for decades after she left Auschwitz.

"I wanted all the Nazis to be hanged – all the bad people – to give them the punishment they deserved," she said.

Then, after a half century, she said she had an epiphany and found a way to heal her emotional wounds.

"If every single Nazi would have been hanged, including Mengele, my life wouldn't have changed one iota," she said. "I, the little nobody, has the power to forgive."

The effort wasn't easy, Kor said, but a trip back to Auschwitz and a meeting with Dr. Hans Munch, a Nazi doctor who tried to help some of the Jews at the camp, helped jump-start the healing process. She even danced before leaving the camp for the second time, saying she knew she was finally free of the Nazi impact on her life.

She has since founded the CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Indiana to locate other survivors of Mengele's experiments

Kor said many Holocaust survivors are angry with her, accusing her of betraying their cause, but she said forgiving the Nazis has left her at peace with her life. She also participates in The Forgiveness Project, a U.K.-based nonprofit that explores forgiveness, reconciliation and conflict resolution through real-life experiences.

"In spite of Auschwitz, in spite of Mengele and all the evilness that was done there, I have survived, and I have thrived because I have freed myself by forgiving them," she said. "I have the power to do so, and I am free of them."